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

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

The SETU Survey: Our Results

The survey we conducted at SETU was the first draft of a set of question that are still in the works.

Out of a total of 39 girls who gave the survey 24 girls knew what periods are while 15 did not. Additionally, majority of the girls (66.6%) attended school while only a few said that they missed school while on their period. Most of the girls at Setu utilize pads while on their periods while only one uses cloth. And, almost all the girls first heard about periods and menstruation from their mothers but none of them spoke only to their fathers about it. However, two girls said that they were introduced to it by both their parents together.

Some of the different responses to the taboos and myths that the girls face include: not being allowed to eat sour/spicy food, not being allowed to enter the temple, not being allowed to make physical contact with others, not being allowed to wear tight clothes, not being allowed to enter the kitchen or take any medicine.

These are the results for our survey:

Question 1 SETU Survey Data
Question 1
Question 2 SETU Survey Data
Question 2
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Question 3
Question 4 SETU Survey Data
Question 4

Conducting the Period Survey with the SETU Girls

The first “Period Survey”, as we call it, was conducted with the girls of SETU Shikshajyoti Kendra in Noida. Here’s a post on our experience.

As we walked through the busy shops towards the SETU Foundation’s Shikhshajyoti Kendra, our eagerness was palpable. Armed with our 60 printed surveys, we were excited to meet the girls and to hit another milestone – the REDefine Campaign’s second collaboration! This was the first time we had visited the school, and all in all,  it was truly an endearing yet eye-opening experience.

The SETU Foundation is an organisation which helps promote the growth and learning of the youth of India, especially for the girl child. As we walked through the gates of their school in Noida, we were impressed by its sheer size and the immediate warmth of its environment.


We walked into the office of the Program Director of SETU Foundation, Ms. Jyotsna Srivastava, who the team had been in contact with. She suggested that we first have a look around the classrooms to acquaint ourselves with the students and school. She also suggested we do the survey for the girls from grades six to ten.

We divided amongst ourselves the grades allotted to us. With the majority of the team having a concerning level of discomfort with Hindi, we practiced what we would say to them under our breaths. Ultimately, Anshika and Jhanvi decided to visit sixth grade first, while Ritika and Tara went to the other classrooms.

When we first entered the classrooms, we noticed the incredibly evident sex ratio. It was a pleasant surprise to see many more girls than boys in the classes. We were also welcomed by the teachers graciously, even though we were interrupting their class time. We outlined the aims of our survey to the students in the simplest way possible (and with great difficulty, explained to the boys why this survey wasn’t for them). The class was immediately enveloped in jittery whispers, but when we asked the class how many of the girls there had gotten their period, an uncomfortable silence fell. Even though a single child reluctantly raised her hand, we understood many of them hadn’t gotten their period and did not push further.

Having noticed the awkward glances at each other, we changed our tactic. When the girls were reluctant to raise their hand again in seventh grade, Tara raised her own hand, and so did the rest of the team, encouraging more students to raise their hands. This helped them view us as equals and not just people from another NGO “trying to make a change”.

The girls began filling the surveys out and began discussing the questions with each other. This was may have helped them understand the questions better if they were too shy to ask us. At the same time, it may have been one of the major roadblocks we had to our survey. Had they been discussing answers, the results of our survey would have been quite unreliable.

However, in terms of asking us questions and trying to understand the survey, the girls were quite open and free, raising their hands politely to get our attention.  As we walked from class to class, we read some of the answers and were surprised by the list of things that they could not do on their period, including not eating sour things, not standing in between boys, etc. The students of tenth grade were all female which made the general atmosphere of the class much less tense. They had already studied menstrual health and hygiene, understood the questions easily, and didn’t discuss their answers with others.

Conducting the survey was successful because we were able to identify what would need to be spoken about with the respective classes and how this would be done. However, the results had yet to be analyzed, which would, in turn, develop our surveying techniques and the way we frame our thoughts. Keep reading to follow our journey with the girls from SETU!

Meher from The REDefine Team

The Period Survey for the SETU Foundation: Planning

In hopes of conducting a workshop with SETU Foundation, we decided to conduct a survey about periods with the girls in Setu Shikshajyoti Kendra. Here’s a bit on the thought put into the survey.

Dear reader,

As we sent countless emails to NGOs around Delhi and Noida wondering if our workshops on menstrual health and hygiene would be helpful, we weren’t surprised when we received no response barring one email that said our services weren’t needed. Our spirits did rise when the SETU Foundation responded saying the workshop could be held in their school in Nithari (a village in Noida) called the SETU Shikshajyoti Education Kendra.

The SETU Foundation is an organization that works to make permanent changes to the lives of the underprivileged or the less fortunate. This is done in terms of hygiene, education for all, youth development, women empowerment as well as skill development and rehabilitation. SETU stands for “Skill and Empower the Un-Served”, and interestingly, means “bridge” in Hindi.

This was greeted with much enthusiasm from the team. When are we going to the school to meet the girls? How many girls are there? Who are we going to collaborate with? How much do the girls know? Before we jumped the gun, Ritika suggested we conduct a survey with the girls. We were informed that they could read and write English reasonably well but, knowing our team, we remained skeptical while constructing the survey.

We debated whether the survey was to be aimed at sparking thought about menstruation and the taboo around it or simply retrieving information to aid the talks we were going to give. It was decided that its primary aim was to get information. Some questions, like what they weren’t allowed to do on their period, could possibly make some girls consciously think about the restrictions imposed on them while on their period: but we weren’t expecting much. Ultimately, the survey was aimed at extracting information on the following things:

  • at what age they found out what periods were
  • who told them about periods
  • what they use on their periods
  • whether they attend school on their period
  • what they aren’t allowed to do on their period

There were a million outcomes we could think of; the many ways the survey wouldn’t go as planned. We could only find out after we went to the school the next day.

Tara from The REDefine Team