We had our first talk with a group of roughly fifteen girls who became the most patient audience. They were students being tutored by an NGO known as Parkshala™.
Parkshala™ is a charitable organization in Noida that tutors students who belong to a lower financial class and, in their own words, aim to “bridge the educational and moral gap between economically weak children and their affluent peers”. We spoke to Priya Gupta, who teaches these students, and asked her whether we could talk to the girls who had had their periods as well as those who hadn’t. We were certain the girls would be a tad bit uncomfortable talking about menstruation in front of a boy, as they were. We wanted to show these girls that boys ought to be aware and sympathetic towards menstruation too. Not only should the topic be openly discussed with girls, it should be spoken about with everyone comfortably– and that it isn’t too much to hope for.
The three of us had planned to divide the biology portion, hygiene, myths, and taboos surrounding periods among ourselves. However, as the talk progressed, our aim became simply to make them understand and that led us all to interject and help each other out. We cracked jokes every now and then and received nervous chuckles, but it definitely helped break the ice. However, it was undoubtedly hard to vocalize certain terms relating to this topic in Hindi, but we were fortunate enough to have Parkshala’s own students help us explain the concept.
One thing we hadn’t anticipated was having to talk about sex. We had to explain the reason behind ovaries producing egg cells once a month; a concept we should have prepared before. Although they understood to an extent (especially with our hasty extempore), it was subsequently added to the talk. This experience however, has added to our knowledge and we are now prepared to talk about any thing relating to the topic of menstruation.
Upon concluding our talk, we distributed reusable pads made by Eco Femme. Our choice of pads had been mulled over for a long time. Reusable pads, if taken care of, can be used for 3 to 5 years. All that had to be done was a good soak overnight. Was there a higher chance of a rash or an infection? Both, yes and no. Cloth pads are softer, have fewer chemicals than the regular disposable pads we use and consequently have a lower probability of causing irritation. At the same time, these pads have to be washed at home. The water can be unsterile. There’s a possibility the pads aren’t cleaned for the appropriate time period. Storing conditions may be unhygienic. It really depends on the user. But, is it an eco-friendly option? Yes. Is it cost-effective? Definitely. These pads were received with mild curiosity and eagerness. It was a particularly satisfying moment. We noted down the names of the girls and the days they get their periods.
We returned two weeks later to ask about the performance of the pads. Only one girl had used it so far but she gave a worrying review. The first day, she said, the pads were incredibly comfortable and she couldn’t tell she was wearing one. After only using a brush and water (not using the soaking method our team had prescribed), the pad began to irritate her skin. We immediately told them not to use the pads if that was the outcome. Although it was cleaning the pad that had been done incorrectly, other girls could make the same mistake and face the same problem.
The next time we visited the girls in the park, was to distribute biodegradable, disposable pads. These pads had been suggested by a resident in the society who claimed to know self-help group that manufactured these pads. Having received these pads, the team was eager to see what they looked like. What we saw left us in shock. Black and yellow stains decorated the surface of the pads and what seemed to be the absorbent material. It didn’t absorb the water we dropped on it. Once again, we recalled these pads from the girls: it would be too much to risk giving them these.
Although our interactions with the girls were short, we learned a lot as a team. Our agenda became far more solidified. We delved into research and poster-making to improve our content and resources. This is our first experience as a team. It wasn’t a complete success, but unlike numerous groups and corporations, we are willingly sharing our short-comings. This will help fellow campaigners improve their own work and learn from the mistakes we made.
-The REDefine Group
We urge you to check out Parkshala’s work here: Parkshala on Facebook
Here are the promised links to the reusable pads we distributed in case you would like to purchase them: Reusable Pads by Eco Femme