In India, especially among the rural, urban poor and conservative communities, menstruation isn’t a normal, healthy biological function – it’s a source of deep shame. It’s considered ‘unclean’ and rarely talked about. This leads to misconceptions about menstrual hygiene that negatively affect women’s health.
- Most girls and women don’t have easy access to sufficient and hygienic sanitary products during menstruation.
- Nearly half of young women in poor areas use unhygienic ways of protecting themselves during their period, or they use no protection at all. As well as being extremely uncomfortable for them, this can leave them vulnerable to infection.
- Schools reinforce the taboos around menstruation by not teaching pupils about it or providing suitable sanitary arrangements like bins. This makes girls more likely not to go to school, hampering their education.
- The communities have no space for women to discuss menstruation issues.
“I was experiencing discomfort during my periods because of the flow of blood in large clots. When I spoke with the expert through Radio Choklate, I knew about the remedies and it worked. Now I share my experience with other girls in my locality.”
Sailaja, Sakhi Club Member, Bhubaneswar
The Ingenious Solution
We set out to overcome the deep-seated beliefs associated with menstruation through a project called Sunolo Sakhi. That means, “Sister, let’s listen.” Communication was the cornerstone of the project, which included a ground-breaking radio programme and a series of supporting initiatives.
- We formed clubs in 60 slums of Bhubaneswar and 11 slums of Cuttack – getting information and advice to over 1800 young and adolescent girls.
- Our live weekly one-hour radio show on local FM radio stations reached out to girls who had no source of information about menstruation. A health worker answered queries throughout the show from anonymous listeners.
- Most people in the slums have a mobile phone, so this ‘phone in’ style of programme was very successful.
- The project specifically targeted girls with disabilities, who particularly suffered from a lack of information. We made an audio book for visually challenged girls and a video book in sign language for hearing and speech impaired girls. We distributed these across Odisha.
- The project also launched the first ever Braille book on menstrual hygiene for visually impaired girls and distributed it among over 3000 young girls.
- The whole initiative reached more than 20500 adolescent girls and women.