Breaking the cudgels of silence

Young women in India are creating safe spaces to share problems and make decisions that have positive influences on their health.

UNICEF India
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29 November 2017

Newly married women in rural Uttar Pradesh are largely expected to remain indoors, they step out only occasionally, that too accompanied by a family member. Being the custodians of family honour, they are seldom heard and seen beyond the family circle. Change in dusty village some 50 kilometres away from the district headquarters started with a local NGO coming to their village in early 2014 to form a group with adolescent girls to initiate discussions on menstrual health and hygiene management. Gradually, the young married women also followed suit and formed a group of their own to unravel the mysteries of 'those special days'- the days of menstruation. The harbinger of this change is Rukhsana Khatoon, a young married graduate.
                        
Rukhsana grew up seeing women in her village living isolated for some of the days in the month - they would not meet others, eat separately and also sleep separately. All this was very intriguing to her young mind, she always wondered what might be the cause of their shame. As she approached adulthood and started her menstrual cycles, the same burdens and limitations were also placed on her and then like other girls she was married off soon after graduation. She thought that the situation might be different in her husband's house but that was not to be. The restrictions and limitations were just the same as in her parental village. Interacting with other newly married women, she felt they too had similar queries simmering in them, but shyness prevented them from talking about it with anybody, including their husbands and family members.

As she approached adulthood and started her menstrual cycles, the same burdens and limitations were also placed on her and then like other girls she was married off soon after graduation. 

Then Rukhsana heard that a local NGO was working in the village with adolescent girls and educating them on menstrual health and hygiene management. She thought that maybe she would find an avenue to put out her queries in these meetings. So one day she met with the NGO worker who used to convene the meetings of adolescent girls and discussed her problem. The NGO worker encouraged her to form a group, exclusively for young married women. Rukhsana was reluctant at the onset but then with support from the NGO worker, gathered some of peers. Little did they know that the group would be that free and happy space where they could openly talk about menstruation among themselves, and learn how one could lead a perfectly normal life during 'those days' without being embarrassed or ashamed. The camaraderie among the members became the added incentive to come for the meetings regularly. The members share that they look forward to dressing up in their finery for the meetings, as it is an opportunity to play, sing, giggle and make friendly digs at one another.

“This group is our safe haven – we share our problems with each other and are slowly finding the courage to make decisions that will positively influence our health,”

says Rukhsana