Our First Session at Auxilium Snehalaya

Our first talk at Auxilium Snehalaya tested our own boundaries of transparency and gave us the opportunity to interact with an insightful group of girls in Dwarka, Delhi.

There has always been a degree of extempore in the sessions we conduct with the girls, but never to the extent with which we conducted this one. Don’t worry, I assure you we always rehearse our talk before going to the home or NGO. The impromptu sections depend on how comfortable our audience appears. If they reach a limit and are simply too scandalised by menstruation or copulation, our speeches begin to fall on deaf ears. So, we slow down and start afresh. However, that didn’t stop us from wondering where our sessions would lead if there were no such limit. Ironic though it may be, Auxilium Snehalaya, a very Catholic establishment, gave us the answer.

Our earlier post about the survey we conducted here painted a picture of the corner of Dwarka we had entered. Having met the eager girls before, it was easier to connect with them. I noticed a camaraderie between the girls I hadn’t seen during other talks. There was more conversation between them (which had proven to be a problem when conducting the survey), more poking fun at each other, and more welcome to a new group of girls.

We began with a video that helped us explain the parts of the female reproductive system and, specifically, how fertilisation occurs. This was a bit of an experiment because fertilisation is much harder to picture than we thought. The girls were clearly visual learners and the video even helped them remember the terminology better. We noticed this when we asked them questions after the video. The only drawback was that circling the laptop was quite time-consuming. So it’s reasonable to use this resource only with a small group of girls.

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Tara in need of attention.

As it turned out, the girls were quite familiar with the need for hygiene and, having received sanitary pads in the orphanage, were familiar with the level of cleanliness required. The passing of the pad, a little REDefine Talk Tradition (patent pending) to demonstrate how the pad works, was met with little resistance from the girls. However, as always, there were few who abstained from holding it. There was a hearty “pad hi toh hai!” (“it’s just a pad!”) from one girl. While we agree that it is just a pad, pushing an individual’s comfort boundaries is not necessarily the right approach to educating them on a sensitive topic like this. We corrected her imposition and emphasised the importance of respecting people’s boundaries.

This back-and-forth set up a candid discussion about taboos related to menstruation. Many agreed that menstruation is a natural part of a female’s life and is nothing to be ashamed of. The consequent influx of questions took us by surprise, but we welcomed them eagerly. We discussed the horrors of cramps, how period blood can be brown and how Tara thought she had accidentally taken a dump the first time she saw brown blood. A frank discussion about sex and the importance of contraception led to some important questions being answered: the appropriate age for sexual intercourse, whether you have to be in love with your sexual partner, and whether one should abstain before marriage. It became interesting, though, when we were suddenly interrogated about our own love lives. “Uske paas toh hai,” (“She definitely has one.”) announced one girl, pointing at Ritika. It was met with general agreement and silent protest from a startled Ritika.

We need to hire a professional photographer.

The question of sexuality arose when we briefly addressed the heteronormativity of our talks – in reality, the person another is sexually attracted to can belong to the same sex. Although a few looked at it with hostility, one girl vehemently argued in favour of loving whoever you want to. Ideally, we wish everyone was tolerant of people with differing sexualities, but we were glad there wasn’t an uncomfortable silence after this conversation. They stated their opinions with ease and were also open to changing these opinions with ease.

There’s something about how quickly they began to trust us that makes me smile thinking about it. We were allowed into their world: joking about their friend’s short haircut, speculating about whether the girl to my left had a boyfriend (I think there was growing consensus that she did).

Although we deviated greatly from the path we had planned, I think I speak for the entire team when I say we are grateful for being able to have these conversation with the girls at Auxilium Snehalaya. Exchanging perspectives and opinions from individuals with two very different backgrounds is beneficial to everyone, us included. It reminded me why we began this campaign in the first place.

Until next time,

Jhanvi from the REDefine Team


Check out and support the work going on at Auxilium Snehalaya: https://www.facebook.com/auxilium.snehalaya

Our Talk at Salaam Baalak Trust

The REDefine Campaign gets the opportunity to talk to engage in one of the open and casual conversation we’ve had with the girls from the Salaam Baalak Trust.

Google Maps, our friend and foe, got us lost in an alley before we found the Salaam Baalak Trust building. The red brick building was much easier to find last time, but luck was not in our favour today. It stood cheerier than similarly tiered houses in the seemingly deserted neighbourhood. It is the only NGO we can safely say has an aesthetic – red brick warmth interwoven with black wrought iron. But I speak for all of us when I say we associate it with a tragic story one of the girls narrated to us before we left.

Tara’s favourite – Lakshmi (you may remember her from our post on the survey we conducted here) held her hand the moment we entered the gate and led us inside. Since too many girls at one talk inhibited the interactive aspect of our sessions, we decided to give the talk to only one group of fifteen girls. We sat them down in a circle and then dispersed ourselves in the midst of them. Although all the girls didn’t actively participating, we were satisfied with a general note of comfort and receptiveness from our audience.

Tara and Pranavi (with my occasional inputs) took over and explained the biology behind periods. Unbeknown to us, a few girls had already learnt the functions of the various organs of the female reproductive system. This gave birth (pun intended) to an interesting conversation about pregnancy- which was a slight detour from the standard menses talk. It also prompted our first sex-ed talk which he hadn’t really incorporated into the session before. We have to admit, it was fun to watch the girls giggle as Tara wiggled her finger to depict a sperm.

Ritika and Pranavi taught them our Five Period Points (i.e. five steps/rules of periods and what to and not to do during your period.) It was a relief to hear all the girls were using pads.

Tara and I then dived into the heavier part of our session: the taboos. Being acutely aware that the girls in front of us come from very different backgrounds and are raised with different mindsets, we had to make sure that what we preached would not get them into trouble here. Upon asking them why they think girls aren’t allowed to go to the temple while menstruating, a couple aggressively piped up with retaliation to the common practice. But it was important to remember that these girls were raised in a home and not a household. Their customs were significantly different so, if they knew about most of these taboos, it was because they had heard about them from somewhere else.

That done and dusted, we went back to light conversations with the girls- asking what they were having for lunch and talking about the plans for the upcoming Diwali break. Once we announced the session over, they ran away for their lunch break. All, but one.

She looked much younger than the others but had a note of maturity when she spoke. She recalled the day she was returning from school, pad in hand. Four men sexually assaulted her having allegedly been triggered by her ‘act of defiance’. She went to the police who pointed the finger back at her and blamed her for what happened to her. Hundreds of girls in her village, both young and old were and still are being brought up with that very mindset and hearing her story reminded us how much road has yet to be covered.

Until next time,

Anshika from the REDefine Team

Our Talk at the ANK Foundation

After reaching ANK, an organization situated in corner of a small village in Noida, we familiarized ourselves with the girls at the school. Surveys proved to be the most helpful when it came to finding common ground as it provided both, us and the audience, a sense of familiarity and a basis to help our talk. Click here for the results of the survey.

This time we changed the formation in which we give our talks. Our aim was for the audience to view our talk as a “discussion” rather than a “lecture”. In order to change their perspective, we decided to sit in a circle. The new seating arrangement helped us attain a comfort level that would help our points be conveyed with impact.

Our new circle formation.

Although we have incorporated poster-based visuals in our talk in the past, this was the first time we made a presentation which solely consisted of pictures: the female reproductive system, a silhouette of a woman, pad companies, and a pad.

While conducting the talk, we observed, with admiration, that these girls were much more aware and responsive compared to the ones at our earlier talks. Usually, when we address taboos, the girls remain silent or are very tense. At ANK, many girls spoke up and shared anecdotes where they questioned authority in relation to periods. One girl, in fact, debunked a few taboos before we could. “Inme koi logic nahi hai, pehele vigyaan nahi tha iseliya unki soch aise thi”, she said, conveying that these taboos came into being due to the lack of scientific knowledge. Although their views were very forward, when a male teacher entered the room they lapsed into silence once more.

Talking about taboos with the girls.

One girl asked about women who do not get their period. When told that these women are not able to give birth, uncomfortable murmurs in our audience told us this topic was viewed with a negative connotation. For future talks, we decided this matter needed to be addressed in a way that allows girls to be proud of having periods, as well as being understanding or and comfortable with not getting their periods.

While giving the talk, we unintentionally directed a lot of our talk to the more responsive girls in the circle. Those who were too shy to ask questions out loud directed them to a member of the group who was sitting near them. This cross-talk caused girls to stop paying attention to the central talk. and individual conversations. We made a mental note to set some guidelines to follow before the talk: ask questions when we give you time to and although we respect private questions, they should be voiced out because other girls might have similar questions. Besides, the more everyone knows, the better.

From left to right: Anshika Gupta, Pranavi Jamwal, Tara Palchaudhuri, Meher Shivie Choudhry and Ritika Khosla

Some girls were hesitant to touch or pass around the pad that we were using in our demonstration of how to use and dispose pads. Despite us insisting that they were clean and that they would have to use them one day or another, a few girls simply didn’t want to come near it. This is a phenomenon we have noticed repeatedly. Every time, we try to improvise different ways to acquaint them with sanitary napkins and although we grow more successful, we have never been 100% so.

Overall, the talk was incredibly successful and will definitely be one of the most memorable ones. By the end of the talk, we all were really comfortable with each other and the girls weren’t afraid to ask us any questions. Our new format and visual aids too proved to be successful and this opened options for our presentations in the future. The fact that they shared personal experiences was really appreciated. In fact, we were cordially invited to spend Bakr Eid with the girls!

Remember to check the out the fantastic work the ANK Foundation is doing:

https://www.ankindia.org

Keep reading!

Ritika from the REDefine Team

The Survey at the ANK Foundation

Here are the results we collected from the survey we conducted at the ANK Foundation.

Two young boys guided Tara and me through the narrow, winding lanes of a little village in the middle of Noida. Tucked away behind a wall, the community buzzed in and out of local shops and living quarters. We crossed a marble mosque which shone a marvelous green in the middle of the comparatively colourless We grew slightly nervous with each step. How would the girls react? Would we be able to successfully explain our aim to them? Will we get credible results and be able to control any complications that might occur? Considering there were only two members, the possibilities were endless.

 ANK is an NGO designed to help provide learning facilities to children all over Delhi/NCR who aren’t able to afford or have access to quality education. In order to achieve this, ANK has created learning centers to promote their goal, and that was where we went. We entered a dark classroom adorned with colorful posters and met eleven girls who were hastily explained who we were and what we were there to do. As soon as the word ‘period’ was uttered, coy glances were shared; a response we’d become painfully familiar with.

The ritual hunt for pens and pencils and the search for comfortable places to sit preceded answering the survey. Our first problem would soon become a frequent visitor to surveys we’d conduct in the future: the students began to discuss their answers. We explained to them that the point of the survey was to establish some solid background information for our talk, but it is something that we should have kept in mind. We happened to be the least proficient in Hindi but it was a manageable situation. The students did their best to answer, and were not hesitant to call us if they did not understand any word or question. We were able to wrap up the survey in 20-30 minutes, and as the children cheerfully waved us goodbye, we were excited to see how the talk with ANK would go.

Here is the data we collected from the survey:

Question 2
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5
Question 6
Question 7
Question 8
Question 9
Question 10
Question 11
Question 12
Question 13
Question 14
Question 15
Question 17

Stick around!

Jhanvi from the REDefine Team

Preparation for the SETU Talk

Preparing for the SETU talk was the second time we sat down and structured our forthcoming talk.

Dear reader,

The results of the survey mentioned in our previous post gave us an idea of the girls’ rudimentary knowledge of periods. It formed the basic structure for planning our talk (click here to see the results).

The planning process had many challenges to offer. Despite our general fluency in everyday Hindi, we had to turn to Google Translate during  fairly often. What were the Hindi translation for “ovaries” or “vagina?” and are they even used to begin with? Our didis took time out of their day to answer our vague questions about the female reproductive system. With approval from their and awkward choral repetition from our end, we reached a comfort level with our content.

Our next challenge was figuring out the structure. Initially, Meher, Tara and I decided to split the talk amongst ourselves by rotating the talks amongst the three of us — one sentence each. After practicing the talk in front of my father, we received suggestions that helped mold our talk. He proposed that we divide the talk into bigger sections and then allot them amongst ourselves. We then divided our talk into six main sections: an introduction with a brief overview of puberty, the biology behind periods, the importance of hygiene during periods, what should be used during periods, the various social stigmas surrounding and a revision session entertaining their (hopefully) many questions.

Picturing ourselves as the audience, we came to a consensus that visual aids and activities would make the talk more interactive and engaging. For the introduction, Tara decided to use a silhouette of a woman as we can point out the areas where females experience changes during puberty. This would help us convey our message in case they weren’t familiar with biological terms in Hindi. Tara was also responsible for hygiene and felt that applying a pad on an underwear in front of them would help give the girls and understanding of how it is done, as visuals do help. If they aren’t comfortable with seeing one being whipped out, shouldn’t they be?

Meher was responsible for the biology and question and answer session. From the experience at Parkshala, she realized that the need for a detailed diagram of the reproductive system isn’t required. Instead, she required a silhouette to point our where the system is. The presence of visuals, thus, seemed to be imperative again. To further enhance her talk and make it more engaging, she felt it would be fun to have a mini quiz at the end. This would help, both, making the talk interactive and ensuring the girls have a clear takeaway.

For combating social stigmas, I felt it would be best get the job done through an activity. The mishaps in communication across generations that give birth to social stigmas, she decided to relate them to a game of “Chinese Whisper”.

In fear of under preparation, we practiced the speech numerous times within ourselves and in front of our parents. Positive feedback from our folks was the green light for visiting the school to finally execute the talk.

Stick with us to know how it went!

Ritika from the REDefine Team