To break the culture of silence around menstruation compounded by age old taboos, the Government of Madhya Pradesh launched the Udita Project in 2015 to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene management and provide access to sanitary pads. Reaching out to women and adolescent girls to openly discuss menstruation and change their behaviour towards it was no mean task but the persistent efforts of the ASHA workers made this feat possible across 90,000 Anganwadi centres in the state.
The Anganwadi centre in Indore was abuzz with activities. A group of adolescent girls had gathered and were all ears to what the Asha worker was saying. It was an interactive session on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in progress at the centre had a dedicated space known as the Udita corner. It had colourful walls decorated with posters about myths and taboos on menstruation along with booklets on Menstrual Hygiene Management as well as a sanitary pad-disposing machine. On the floor was a snakes and ladders game which innovatively in a question and answer play format helped girls understand menstruation in a fun manner.
A similar scenario is often witness across more 90,000 Anganwadi centres in the state of Madhya Pradesh which launched the Udita Project in 2015 to create awareness around safe menstrual hygiene management. Initially active in 39,000 Anganwadi centres in three districts of the state, now the Udita Project is being implemented in all districts across all the Anganwadi centres in the state.
Through the Udita Corners, adolescent girls and women are apprised of hygiene and proper health management during menstruation. WaterAid India has been supporting the state governments’ efforts to provide better facilities to adolescent girls and females on MHM by training the ASHA workers and supporting them with innovative information, education and communication material as well as helping girls understand menstrual hygiene and health management.
Meet 39-year-old Urmila Panchal, an ASHA worker at an Anganwadi centre in Indore. Urmila has been working at the Anganwadi centre for more than five years now and thanks to her, numerous girls in the vicinity have been sensitised on menstrual hygiene management.
“When I was first told about talking on menstrual hygiene management I was very shy and was not sure how would I start the conversation. I had never ever talked about the issue so openly, not even in my family,’’ she recalls.
“At the anganwadi centres the girls discuss their menstruation in a light-hearted environment through games and quizzes. We sensitise the girls using a series of informative posters developed by WaterAid India, which are being used in Udita corners in various Anganwadis in Madhya Pradesh to debunk the common myths that restrict women from performing their regular work like cooking, bathing and eating certain types of food during menstruation,” says Urmila.
Caption: Girls enjoy a game of snakes and ladder at the Anganwadi centre. Photo: WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
The sensitisation and reaching out is not limited to adolescent girls, Urmila also reaches out to mothers and grandmothers to break the silence around menstruation.
“My conversation with the girls made me realise that telling girls alone would not help. If they do not get a supportive environment at home, all what we tell them goes in vain. So we started reaching out to their mothers.’’
Caption: Urmila shares a light moment with the grandmother of an adolescent girl who has been sensitised on menstrual hygiene management in the Anganwadi centre. Photo: WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan
“I meet a lot of mothers and tell them about the importance of safe menstrual practices. Most of them find value in it and now they send their daughters to anganwadi centres to know about it. I advise mothers to send their daughters once they reach 10-11 years so that they are prepared for menstruation and not terrified by it when they start menstruating.’’
Urmila takes pride in what she has achieved through her work in last three years. “I can say that access to information on menstrual hygiene management has made the girls more confident.They are able to openly discuss on issues around menstrual hygiene management at home and in schools. When confronted with taboos, I have seen the girls explain the logic in their families. Sometimes we do not realise how information can empower girls towards happy and healthy future.”
*All photos by Prashanth Vishwanathan / WAI