In the tribal areas of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, women to this date are banished to small, isolated period huts when they are menstruating. For instance, if there are a hundred women in the village, and if they have their menstrual cycles around the same time, they would have to stay in a very small space together. They don’t even have sanitary napkins because they cannot afford it. Since the area also doesn’t have toilets and proper sanitation facilities including water and infrastructure, open defecations constitute a major problem. Sometimes the women even bleed on the floor due to lack of toilets, making the entire set-up really unhygienic. Besides, the huts are often devoid of basic necessities like clean beds, toilets, ventilation, or even proper walls. Since these huts are secluded from the village and are often in the midst of jungles, there have been many instances of women dying due to snake bites or even assaults.
Mukul Madhav Foundation along with Navya Nanda’s Project Naveli have been working towards improving the lives of these women at Gadchiroli.
As one of the most backward villages in the country, Gadchiroli reeks of a lot of cultural taboos and patriarchal traditions that tarnishes the day-to-day lives of its women. It is also one of the most impoverished areas in India, and therefore regularly struggles with a lack of resources.
With an aim to improve the conditions of these women, the NGOs, aim to replace these period huts with ‘period positive homes’ which are eco-friendly and consist of clean toilets, recycled plastic beds, windows, and solar-powered amenities including fans, lights, and a water-pumping system. The women are also given access to sanitary napkins, as well as sewing machines to help them utilise the time when they are confined within those houses.
The NGOs have installed two to three sewing machines in the ‘period positive homes’ and also employed a trainer who goes and trains them. Sewing till date, has been a very big way to elevate the standard of living of those women. They have been trained to make masks, cloth pads, blouses etc. in order for them to be able to earn their own livelihoods and do something productive during ‘that time of the month’. In a way, that also aims to help them look out for themselves in the long run in case of crop failure or loss of other forms of employment.
However, building alternative housings for menstruating women, even though a much-needed and essential first step, is clearly not a solution to the indefinite patriarchal oppression that they have been facing since eons. What is ultimately needed is an effort to correct a flawed assumption that periods are something unhygienic and something to be ashamed of. The fact that women would still need to get out of their homes while menstruating is itself disturbing and needs to be denounced.
Society has touted a very natural phenomenon, in fact the only phenomenon in the world that enables reproduction, as a dirty, unhygienic process. This is very revealing of the way in which women’s bodies are looked at, in general. It is almost always a condescending glance, something that women need to tolerate on a day-to-day basis.
Often, it puts them into situations that are really horrible for their own health and well-being.
Having said that, even though women suffer through this patriarchal tradition surrounding menstruation, they are often the ones who take it forward. Being part of a society where patriarchy and misogyny are ingrained in us from a very young age, it is difficult to break that chain of oppression. So what the NGOs aim to do is slowly train these women in becoming familiar with their bodily processes, as well as make them understand that they don’t have to be cut off from society while menstruating. Even though it’s a slow process, it is the only way to help them move forward from patriarchal traditions that hold them back.
This is part of Mukul Madhav Foundation and its Women’s Day campaign - #BanishTaboosNotWomen in collaboration with Project Naveli by Navya Nanda.
Navya and Gayatri from the NGOs are leading the project.
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