16-Year-Old Muslim Girl Spreading Menstrual Hygiene Awareness In UP
In an exclusive interaction with BW, the 16-year-old talks about her inspiration in spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene and the change she wants to drive. She also shares her experience, opportunities and challenges in conducting the awareness sessions in her village.
Shikoh Zaidi, hailing from a small village of Kuwarpur Baghel in Hardoi of Uttar Pradesh, is working towards breaking the taboo around periods and spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene in her village. Her life took an interesting turn when she secured admission at VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, a residential co-ed school that offers free education to rural, underprivileged meritorious students from Uttar Pradesh.
As part of her reading assignment to help improve her command over English language, she read Deepa Narayan’s famous book on gender inequality called ‘Chup’. The real-life stories of average Indian women facing tremendous challenges because of their gender from the book inspired her to do something that could help change the lives of young girls around her.
Zaidi started by talking about the taboo around periods within her school and addressed her schoolmates on how they can contribute towards driving a change within their communities. Encouraged by her teachers at VidyaGyan, she now regularly organizes sessions on menstrual hygiene in her village to drive awareness around safe period practices.
Supported by her father, Zaidi goes door-to-door inviting young girls and their mothers to join for the session which includes screening of simple animated films on menstrual hygiene and a talk to encourage open conversation around menstruation. Zaidi's efforts are bearing results with more young girls and also their mothers adopting safe menstrual practices in her village.
Excerpts from the interaction:
How challenging it has been talking about the taboo associated with menstruation in UP?
Initially, when I spoke to my parents about the awareness mission regarding menstrual health and hygiene, my mother didn’t agree. My persuasion and at times nagging, in the long run, won her over. I knew if not now, the mission would never take-off. Disappointed and sad by my mother’s reaction, I turned to my father for help and it worked.
Later, after planning and arranging the paraphernalia, the challenge came very early. When I went to call people for menstrual ‘chaupal’ (sort of meeting), they didn’t agree and threw lame excuses like they have to do some important household chores. Of all things why talk about a Dirty – Private Issue at a public forum. I had to really struggle to call people and collect them in one place.
Do the women in your village in Hardoi, UP, have access to sanitary napkins?
Only a handful of women who can afford to buy the available napkins in the market. Largely, people for whom making the two ends meet is a struggle, using sanitary napkin is a luxury. I have a few friends whose families are not economically sound. They never ask their parents for sanitary napkins and it is unwise to expect them to use costly napkins which would add up to their expenses. They manage with discarded pieces of used cloth.
What inspired you to work towards creating awareness around menstrual hygiene? And how are you doing so? Please elaborate.
Reading 'Chup', written by Deepa Narayan, inspired me to break the silence around menstruation. I went back to my village during the summer vacation of 2018 and explored people’s attitude towards menstruation in my community. I couldn’t believe that there exist certain social norms that have not changed over the centuries.
Talking about the periods is still a taboo. People blindly follow some practices like not entering the kitchen, not touching vinegar and pickles, not attending marriage ceremonies, etc. People hardly bother about sanitation during periods. They use an old dirty cloth to absorb the menstrual flow and the worst part of it is the clothes are not dried in open space under sunlight ---- for the SHAME factor attached to periods. I had to make people aware of the health hazards of uncleanliness associated with periods and decided to talk about it openly even if such a discussion by me was not appreciated by the elders of the village.
I prepared posters bearing catchy slogans and phrases and rented a projector. I picked three animated educational videos from YouTube. Then I went to call women and girls to gather at my house premises so that I could collectively talk to them.
When people gathered, I first introduced the topic for discussion, its biological significance and social importance. I talked about the social stigmas related to menstruation and the taboos that persist in my community. Followed by the videos to spread awareness through visual presentation and to make the discussion more interesting. Later I taught them how to use a sanitary napkin. I have organised two such screenings.
What kind of response did you get from the women or young girls initially?
2018 was the year of realization and challenges, girls and women were amazed to see such a young girl to speak about a taboo issue. They came up with lame excuses for not attending the interaction. The girls and women did not accept my invitation. Later, during the vacation of 2019, my father helped me to gather the audience, by convincing them repeatedly to attend the session. When I displayed the use of sanitary napkins a few girls were making faces and giggling at the sight of the pad.
Did you get any support from family and friends?
Yes, my father was the key to the execution of my plan. My mother refused but ironically my father agreed to help me. He arranged the projector and eatables after every screening as an incentive to encourage the audience to join me in further meetings. Two young friends in my neighbourhood helped me to prepare the posters. Surprisingly, they both are boys!
Are you witnessing any change within your village, basis your initiative? Please share some information.
I don’t claim any reformation or big change but I am satisfied that at least a few girls (around 20-30) have started using sanitary napkins and some of them have requested their parents for pads. The silence is broken now. Earlier people avoided talking about periods but now it is a household topic for discussion. I assure that the hesitation is reduced now. People are following hygienic practices. The first change I noticed was in the second screening when the frowns and giggles were reduced considerably. The discussion was far more open and lively this time.
What do you want to do further with this initiative? What are your plans for your future? How do you see yourself in next 10 years?
I want to create a chain action. With the help of my school friends, I am trying to spread the campaign to other villages. Recently, with the help of my two teachers Ashok Nanda and Rajeev Tyagi, I along with my juniors campaigned in Suraincha village.
My plans for future are not big but yes I want to sustain the initiative. I want my village to be free from issues regarding menstruation and persuade more people to opt for hygienic means. At least in the backyard clean and dry the cotton clothes properly for further usage of clean and government pads.
In the next 10 years, I will be more independent. I will try my level best to install a sanitary napkin making machine in my village which will be based upon the concept of SHGs. This will not only solve the problem of a sanitary napkin but also provide employment to the villagers, especially women.
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