A young star promoter of menstrual health – at home and to multiple generations
Meet the menstruation health champion from Uttar Pradesh
MIRZAPUR, India - Manisha Pal, now 20, was in her 4th grade, when she first went on a training session on MHM, organised by UNICEF in partnership with Johnson &Johnson in her village in Mirzapur. “When I first went on a training session. I did not know anything about menstruation.” Most of the girls in her village don’t. “I wasn’t even menstruating back then.”
At the sessions, Manisha was one of the brightest girls, quick to grasp information. Outspoken and a good orator, she was loved by her local health workers, for being a quick learner. She soon became a promoter of menstrual health hygiene, in her village.
Armed with a bright smile, Manisha made it her mission to educate people in her village on menstruation. Manisha started running training workshops every month, to help girls in her village prepare for menstruation. ‘Some of the girls in the village would be terrified when they got their first period, but with our help and support, they would understand its importance and how to handle it.’
Unlike many girls in her village, when Manisha started menstruating, she was fully prepared for the day. Giddy with excitement, she used sanitary napkins that she had bought for herself beforehand. She did not need to consult anybody or seek anyone’s help.
But the reality of being a menstruating woman in her village soon caught up with her. She had to go to the field to relieve herself, wash herself in her open courtyard and dump her sanitary waste in the open.
“I used to feel ashamed of dumping my waste openly. It would also sometimes lead to fights with neighbors over whose waste it is”.
It was a source of great shame for Manisha. But true to her feisty self, Manisha started asking for better sanitation at home.
“I fought with my father and convinced him to build a washroom at our home. He did not take me seriously at first. But I explained to him the importance of having a bathroom at home and its sanitary value. He eventually built one.” Manisha also dug a pit in her family farms, to dispose of sanitary waste, so she does not litter her menstrual waste around.
Passionate about bringing a change in women’s lives, Manisha soon shifted her focus to her house.
Manisha’s mother, who would initially restrict herself from praying on the days of menstruation, was convinced by Manisha to change her behaviour. “My mother not only lets me pray when I am menstruating, she even prays herself during menstruation.”
When Manisha’s elder brother, who works as a truck driver in Mumbai, got married, her sister in law started living with them. Away from her husband in a new village, Manisha proved to be a vital source of information for her sister in law. Despite being older and married, Manisha’s sister in law did not know a lot about menstruation.
“My sister in law was not told about menstruation and health when she was younger, so she did not know what was healthy and normal and what was not. Once she came here, I started sharing with her what I was taught at my training.” Once Manisha’s sister in law shared with Manisha that her periods would last more than 15 days and wondered if that was normal. Manisha knew that it was not. She alerted her sister in law of possible iron deficiency and put her in touch with the local health worker.
Manisha taught her sister in law, how to keep track of her period cycles, through a beaded bracelet. A technique she had learnt at one of the multiple trainings provided by UNICEF in her village. UNICEF has been working with girls in places like Manisha’s village in Uttar Pradesh for more than 7 years. Girls like Manisha continue to educate and support younger girls in their village and families on safe and hygienic menstrual practices. They arrange activities and training sessions at the village’s primary school, using games to dismantle myths and misconceptions about menstruation.