Our Collaboration with Salaam Baalak Trust

Our second session at Salaam Baalak Trust was testament to how different a talk can be at the same institution.

Dear reader,

As you know by now, our articles serve as our own feedback  to develop our campaign. For this article, I’m trying a new format to present our feedback in a more constructive and concise manner., 

Future Advice #1: Document the names of the girls who attend our session each time. When we reached Salaam Baalak Trust for the second time, we were welcomed by smiles from faces familiar and new. Because we hadn’t written the names of the girls from our first talk, it took longer than usual to populate the little mats on the sunbathed roof. 

Future Advice #2: RLD (Response Language Detection) does work. If you find this term cool, it’s because I coined it. In our previous talks, we often struggled to understand which language our audience is more comfortable with when using scientific terminology. We came up with a strategy to overcome this – when introducing a body part on a diagram, we would teach them both the Hindi and English term for it. To test their knowledge, we would then ask them to name the body part as we pointed at it. The language the majority responded in indicated which one they were more comfortable with. For instance, we applied RLD by introducing the term for “vagina” in both languages, English and Hindi (“yoni”). When asked to respond, most referred to it as the “vagina”, suggesting we could use English terms later. 

RLD in action

Future Advice #3: Draw and carry diagrams for all biological topics that can be spoken about – ranging from the menstrual cycle to sexual intercourse. While our biological segment covers menstruation, a diagram depicting the menstrual cycle can help expand on the topic if our audience permits us to. “Permitting” is, of course, a vaguely interpreted term and we couldn’t rely on the possibility of questions to gauge how comfortable or curious our audience was. The seemingly less talkative girls intermittently nodded when we recounted our experiences with vaginal discharge, which we ascertained to be a green flag to elaborate on this phenomenon. Even though we were able to expand on vaginal discharge in terms of varying thickness and colour, a diagram would have proved more than helpful. When the concept of sex was met with a few confused looks, we were forced to rely on some classic hand gestures which, quite surprisingly, sent the message. 

Future Advice #4: Stick to the dispersed seating arrangement. As opposed to sitting next to each other as we did this session, we would politely ask our listeners whether they could scoot to the left a little bit – thank you, I’ll sit here, if you don’t mind. We’ve noticed that the shy, yet inquisitive, audience members take advantage of this arrangement and whisper their doubts to the nearest REDefine member while others are more vocal. This time, because we sat together, we only received questions that were addressed to the group (which were comparatively fewer). When bidding farewell to Salaam Baalak Trust, a girl approached me to ask about how height changes upon puberty. While I appreciated the question, I reflected on why she didn’t ask me during the talk. Perhaps it was because of our group arrangement. This really helped us identify how the simple subconscious act of scattering ourselves through our audience encouraged questions. 

Our collaboration with Salaam Baalak Trust was definitely a memorable one, showing us the effectiveness of new strategies and the importance of old habits. We look forward to implementing our learnings in future talks!

We’ll see you next time,

Ritika from the REDefine Team

Remember to check out and support the amazing work Salaam Baalak Trust is doing: https://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/

Our First Talk at the Amba Foundation

Our first talk with the girls at the Amba Foundation was one of the first talks we had in a classroom setup.

Dear reader,

The Amba Foundation, in its own words, focuses on education, skill-training, health and community-development of underprivileged women and children. It is an organisation hidden in the markets near a village called Mandawali. I say “hidden” because we got lost twice. It was in one of those infamous locations where Google Maps would allege that there was, in fact, a path through a wall and following said path would lead us to our destination. We fell in the same traps as the last time we had come here, so experience had not taught us much.

Their field office is on the second floor of a dusty building. However, this time, we were escorted to another building, further down the street. In typical Delhi fashion, it was adorned wires, uneven sidewalks, and red spots in odd spaces. However, we passed a mosque that appeared discordant in the busy market. Newly white-washed, the Masjid Fazle Ilahi’s deep green tiles glittered in the sun. While the passers-by were used to seeing it, it certainly turned our heads.

We arrived at a double-storied building, the first floor of which was occupied by young women herding the twenty odd girls who we were to talk to. We were soon welcomed into the room to find them seated on their desks and waiting patiently. Due to the lack of space, we were not able to sit in the circle setup we are comfortable with. We had a whiteboard behind us and we appeared as teachers to them. When we were greeted with a “ma’am”, we quickly denied the title.

Through our previous talks, we had learned the importance of “small talk” or establishing rapport with the girls. This time, it was especially necessary, given how much they looked at us as teachers. We also realised that we weren’t the only “teachers” in the room – a few young women from our earlier encounter flanked the walls at the back of the room.

While introducing the concept of puberty, we noticed these girls were generally more responsive compared to earlier groups we have spoken to. A few spoke about periods without hesitation – perhaps, they had learnt about it as a part of their school’s curriculum. However, many were reluctant to speak. When Ritika showed them a pad, some began to whisper and giggle. With each member holding the pad, we tried to explain to them that pads were. Even after these efforts, we could tell there remained some hostility towards the pad.

After pointing at our diagram of the female reproductive system, we looked up at our now silent audience. Ritika is infamous in our team for her untimely jokes with obscure references, and so her attempt to lighten the mood was met with slight confusion. I remember seeing Ritika peering expectedly at the girls, waiting for a laugh. She returned our gaze with mild embarrassment. Looking back, I realise it was so characteristic of Ritika’s interactions with people in general. At the time, of course, it caught us unawares. Flustered, we brought the conversation back to biology and segued into talking about taboos.

The taboos’ section is often approached with precaution because it can be odd having strangers dispute your cultural knowledge and address the silence around topics you didn’t know existed. To our surprise, it was much easier this time. This was because Pranavi suddenly realised using a role model would help them overcome their discomfort with menstruation. She reminded the group that our beloved Bollywood actresses like Alia Bhatt and Priyanka Chopra also advocated the need for conversation about periods. They were shameless and proud, qualities that allow people to be heard. Hearing the familiar names did eventually lighten the mood. They know these women, they’ve seen them on television and newspaper adverts. The game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ that we play to demonstrate how a story changes through generations was met with more excitement than usual. Perhaps having a large crowd for one session has its advantages.

Having concluded our talk, the teachers gave us feedback (for the first time, as far as I recall). They recommended that we shorten our biology section putting a greater focus taboos. We greatly appreciated their suggestions and even discussed future collaborations with them. If you have some suggestions too, we’d love to hear from you!

Signing off,

Jhanvi 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

The Period Survey Conducted in Rainbow Homes

The REDefine members were pumped to meet our largest group of girls, 73 to be exact, yet (today, it was just Tara, Jhanvi, Anshika, Shresth, and Meher) and introduce them to our first male member. In a flurry of excitement, we frantically printed 100 surveys that hadn’t been assembled beforehand. Would the survey prove more successful and yield more information than the last time?

One survey was for girls who had already started their periods while the other one was for girls who had not yet. Both the surveys were printed out in Hindi and had the options ‘yes’ or ‘haan’, ‘no’ or ‘naa’ and ‘maybe’ or ‘shaayad’.

Hidden behind the crowded lanes of Kilkari, the Rainbow Home was like a gated island of joy — tucked away from the thousands of men going about their day. It was, admittedly, an experience navigating the sea of people with only a confused Google Maps as a compass. When we reached the were greeted by a courtyard of girls playing during their lunch break. They were organized into two classrooms on the basis of their age groups. And thus, we began our survey!

A buzz grew in the rooms as the girls discovered what the survey was really about. As with all most of our encounters, the initial lack of response was slightly disheartening but, following the trend, whispers slowly turned to enthusiastic chatter. We noticed some girls were copying each other’s answers or asking their teachers for help. As much as we tried to stop this by telling them to answer their own survey honestly and by emphasising the fact that it was not a test, a few girls’ answers were not their own. Therefore, the data collected from this survey was not of the quality we had intended it to be. 

Some of the younger girls couldn’t understand the questions while some could not read or write. We sat each of these girls down and guided them through the survey. This process actually facilitated a lot of discussions and highlighted a few issues with the survey. We observed that sentences needed to be framed better and the confusion between what a question was asking and the objective or aim of that question needed to be addressed.

The walk back to the car was composed of a feedback session of sorts where we discussed the survey questions, our individual experiences while helping the girls fill in the surveys, their reactions to some of the questions and what topics our upcoming talk with them could include. This was documented in a voice recording that soon became tradition following any interactions we had.

In conclusion, the survey was a partial success as we managed to take a survey of our first large group of girls and also figured out the flaws in our survey.

The results of the survey are as follow:

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

Happy reading!

Meher from the REDefine Team.

Our Visit To SETU: Talking To the Middle School Girls

After the incessant preparation, the REDefine Team gave their first talk at an actual school.

Dear reader,

When Saturday arrived, we rushed through our content before letting Jyotsana Srivastava, the SETU program director, herd us into the dining hall. In the few minutes that the girls took to get settled, we struck up a general conversation to help break the ice.

Our talk began with a brief introduction about the content of our talk (which went along the lines of, “kya aapko pata hai hum aaj kis cheez ke bare mein baat karne aaye hain?”– “do you know what we have come to talk about?”) and received a chorus of the word “periods!”.

Ritika talking to the girls.

With a brief overview of what periods are and why they happen, our talk segued into the female reproductive system. With a little persistence from the girls, we elaborated on each of the four organs that make up the system. This inadvertently explained how menstruation is imperative in order to be able to give birth. In our eyes, this knowledge gives women a sense of clarity surrounding what occurs in our own body. Often, in cultures around the world, incorrect facts, myths, and taboos stem from this lack of knowledge– which is what we are trying to battle.

“Why don’t boys have periods?” was probably our favourite question towards the end of this session. Why shouldn’t they?

SETU Talk 14
From left to right: Meher Shivie Choudhry, Anshika Gupta, Ritika Khosla and Tara Palchaudhuri

“What about some people who never get their periods?” — a challenging question because in order to explain the concept of infertility, irregular periods and not menstruating at all – we needed to take the session two steps further.

“What are the organs responsible for menstruation called? Where are they in our body?”– this was explained this with the help of a diagram which we used to point out our reproductive system.

The next section was divided into two parts: how to use pads and personal care.

We explained the importance of using pads instead of other alternatives like pieces of cloth and/or straw. Then we proceeded to show them how to use a pad with the help of a sample sanitary napkin and then briefed them on the disposal method that should be used for a pad.

SETU Talk 7
Tara explaining how to use pads.

In the personal care section, we shared five main points that were important for them to keep in mind for hygienic purposes:

  1. Use pads when on your period
  2. Dispose of pads properly
  3. Change pads every 4-6 hours
  4. Wash hands after changing pads
  5. Never forget to bathe when on your period

It was obediently repeated in their choral sing-song manner until we were satisfied with what they remembered.

The final section was introduced with the question: are you not allowed to do some specific things while on your period? And have you ever asked why?

SETU Talk 3

We had an enthusiastic discussion on how most taboos do not have any logical reasoning behind them and how these stigmas have no actual scientific backing towards them. We told them how having periods did not make one ‘impure’ or ‘dirty’ in any way. We also played a game of ‘Chinese Whisper’ in order to show how a simple notion such as ‘one should rest during their period’ can turn to ‘do not enter the kitchen while menstruating’. The parallel was easily brought about when ‘I like chocolate’ evolved into something about pigeons after one round of the game.

Before concluding our talk, we still had one final thing to do. We asked the girls whether they had learnt anything new from the talk and if it was helpful to them in any way. They told us that they learnt about the ovaries and other organs which they had never heard of before but that a similar talk had already once been conducted with them before. So, in conclusion, our talk was successful in many ways even though most of the girls had already been briefed on this topic. What our talk did encompass was the social aspect of being in a woman’s body– a situation that can involve immense hardship in Indian society.

With love,

Meher from the REDefine Team