It was around the 6th grade when the girls in my class began getting their period. Ever since, I’ve heard numerous, ridiculous stories of the things some of them on their period have had to do. “My family doesn’t let me sleep on the bed when I have my period,” I remember one of my friends telling me, “I have to sleep on the floor.”
As the stories continued, I realised how backward Indian society was when it came to menstruation—even the educated part of our society shunned it. As if entering puberty isn’t frightening enough! Girls around the country grow up thinking their period is some sort of deformity; something they ought to be punished for.
Bangalore-based health activist and journalist Urmila Chanam, has been breaking this exact stigma associated with menstruation in India for a while now. Founder of the “Breaking the Silence” campaign, Chanam has collaborated with a number of NGOs and health professionals, including the World Pulse Organisation, for over 6 years now to change the false, mass perceptions associated with menstruation. Earlier last year, she was one of three recipients from around the world, of the Voices of Our Future Award for the change her campaign has brought through technology.
“I am a survivor of domestic violence,” Chanam tells The Northeast Today. “I became a victim of domestic abuse right from the sixth month of my marriage. For eight whole years, I remained silent and did not share my woes with anybody, not even my family...This virtue of keeping mum about my worries nearly killed me. But that was the end of it. I decided to take matters into my own hands and taking only my 3-year old daughter with me, I walked out of my house, leaving all my belongings behind, in search of a better life.” Chanam realised that, like her, women around the country are left voiceless because of an inbuilt fear of society, and thus, decided to ‘break the silence.’
Chanam has campaigned around the country, including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Manipur, using social media and community-based trainings to spread accurate information about menstruation. She has successfully involved both men and women in her campaign. As of last year, she has trained 6,000 girls in India in understanding that their period is nothing but basic biology. She shared her aims with The Northeast Today, “My vision is that the number of women who use sanitary pads should increase. My second vision is to see a decline in the rates of drop-out among girls after they start menstruating. The most important goal is for the government to include a chapter on ‘Menstrual Hygiene Education’ in the school curriculum which should be taught diligently and to be taught to both the genders.”
According to information collated by NJPC, at least one in five girls drop out of schools owing to menstruation, less than 12% of Indian women use sanitary pads, and India accounts for 27% of cervical cancer deaths – almost twice the global average – partially due to poor menstrual hygiene. With people like Chanam working so actively with this issue, we are certain of significant changes in these statistics in the years to come.