“I love breaking the taboos”: how teens in India are fighting against the stigma surrounding periods

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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Teens living in certain areas of India are used to being stigmatised simply for having their monthly periods.

There are hundreds of taboos and myths associated with the topic, and it’s not uncommon for these girls to be told they can’t speak to their fathers, join in with family meals, make eye contact or even live in their family homes. 

Until now.

WaterAid, in sponsored_longform with Aveda, have been working to educate girls living in the Telangana state in India on menstrual hygiene management (MHM), and have reached over 64,000 teens in less than a year. Now these girls are breaking away from the restrictions placed upon them and battling against the stigmas they have lived with for centuries.

Here, hears from three inspirational girls doing just that, as they try to educate others on the importance of normalising periods across the world.

“I didn’t follow my parents advice and used to do the opposite”: Mounika, 12, member of the MHM Core Girls Group

"As part of the core group, I learn good practices and then spread awareness. I also pass on the messages at home too.

I talk to girls about the taboos around menstrual hygiene management. I give them a booklet and go through it with them.

I had a friend in the village and her mother believed that she shouldn’t water trees when she was on her period. I told her this was a taboo and that she should try watering plants when she is menstruating to see what happens. My friend told her parents this and the girl has now been able to change their mindsets around menstruation.”

“When I had my period, my family wouldn’t give me spicy food. I didn’t follow my parents advice and used to do the opposite. My mum used to ask me why I did the opposite to what she asks. However, my mum is now starting to understand that taboos aren’t real.

I love breaking the taboos. I feel happy being part of this core group, I’m happy I can share this information with others."

“It’s important to break down superstitions”: Pushpalatha, 20

“As part of my MHM training I have learnt good hygiene practices and I spread this knowledge among other peer groups.

I break down taboos out there which affect girls, such as girls on their period not being allowed into temples or going to school, and also not drinking milk because the cow is a sacred animal so they couldn’t drink milk at the time of their periods – it’s important to break down superstitions. I also talk to them about hygiene and how to eat properly too.

Girls don’t take baths while they’re on their periods either due to superstitions but I tell them they can and that it’s good for relaxing.

I spread awareness about safely disposing of sanitary towels as well. I also share tips on cramps and to drink ginger tea and different yoga asanas to relieve pain.”

“When I had my first period I was really scared. I was playing and I ran home to my mum and told her what happened. She said that ‘peddamanishi’ (to become a women) had happened. I didn’t know anything about menstruation before [the hygiene education].

I don’t want other girls to feel this way; I want them to feel confident. Especially other young girls from villages like me.

I feel really happy spreading awareness and sharing information with young people in this area. I hope other girls will share it too and this will increase awareness in society.”

“Upper class girls on their periods can’t see their fathers for 5 days”: Saativika, 20, member of the MHM Core Girls Group

“Menstruation is something that no one talks about. If a girl is on menstruation, no one can talk about it – there are so many restrictions to what she can do during this time too. I had a difficult situation and other girls have been through the same. I feel like there are so many taboos around the subject. 

Through the training, I have been able to face this. I have trained over 1500 people so far. I feel sad to see what other girls face. They’re shut away from families. There are different taboos for each caste: for example, upper class girls can’t see their fathers for five days.

My parents are educated so they understand. However, I feel sad for other girls. Due to their traditions they end up following the taboos. My mother and father work with an NGO (they used to work with this particular partner) and so I was aware of menstruation – at the age of six/seven years old I already knew about it.”

“I feel good taking part in this and giving confidence to other girls so they can spread awareness even further. Girls listen to me and can relate because I’m young too. I like to train people talking about the female reproductive system – anything with interaction as it makes it easier to communicate the message.

When I go to a school, the first thing I say is treat me like a sister – ask me questions, write down questions. I try to keep it as informal as possible. To talk about it so that girls feel free to talk. We use body maps – girls rarely draw the female reproductive system and so this is a great starting point.

The training has been going so well that we have been asked to go to schools in the next district too.”

All image credits: WaterAid/Ronny Sen

For more information about the work that WaterAid and Aveda are doing for MHM, click here: