Aiming for: Gold Award
About the Author:I am a 3rd year science student who has been involved with UCDVO for the past 3 years I have volunteered twice in India and I am hoping to stay in development in the future.
Let’s talk about periods.
Periods are pretty much a taboo topic everywhere you go in the world. My Mother still gets offended when I openly talk about my period in front of my younger brothers or my Dad. The whole ‘developed’ world is still embarrassed about periods, you can turn on the TV at anytime of the day and see sanitary towel commercials still using a weird blue liquid to substitute blood because of course it would be outrageous to show blood on TV.
Girls from a young age are taught to be all hush-hush when it comes to our periods. Growing up I would never buy my own sanitary towels for fear of being served by a male cashier. The word period would never be mentioned anywhere and if it did everyone would blush red with embarrassment. In Ireland we have never been open about periods. I am 21 years old and it is only now after 10 years of having my period that I have the confidence to buy tampons/sanitary towels without getting embarrassed and it is only now that I have the courage to talk about periods in front of males.
This stigma around periods is not confined to Ireland. In other cultures women are shamed a lot more for having their period. In Nepal in some traditional rural areas women who are menstruating must sleep outside in menstruation huts. This practice is very dangerous as many women have died due to sleeping outside in very harsh weather conditions. It is believed that if a woman who is menstruating sleeps indoors with the rest of the family she will contaminate the family, the livestock will die and that the Hindu gods will be unhappy. Period shame is something that is extremely common in India as well. Some of the menstrual practices can include taking time off work and school. Avoiding cooking and eating with other people during menstruation and not visiting places of worship.
I first volunteered in South India Vijayawada in 2015 and then again in 2016. In 2015 we carried out sex education talks with the older girls in orphanage. I learned a lot from this experience. First thing that I noticed was that my own knowledge and my friends knowledge of periods and sexual health was rather poor. This is something that is a clear reflection of how we have practically no sex education in Ireland and how there is still a lot of shame around the topic. A few of the girls asked us some specific questions and the truth was we didn’t know the answer to every single one of them. When I returned to Ireland after the summer on project I realised that this was an area that we could improve on for next year. I was fortunate to be made a student leader so this meant I could return again the following Summer in 2016.
I did some research on the topic and once when I was browsing Ted Talks I came across a talk called “A taboo-free way to talk about periods” by Aditi Gupta. This women designed comic books to educate Indian girls about periods in a completely informative and taboo free manner. I loved the idea and so did the UCDVO staff and the staff of the orphanage so we ordered as many comics as we could. On project every girl from age 10-16 and some of the house mothers too got a copy of the comic book. The book will always serve as a tremendous resource for them. The book will prepare them for when they get their period and it will educate them on how to take care of the their body when it happens.
When I look back on the 2016 project, getting these comic books always stand out as one of our highest achievements. Being educated on sexual health is vital for girls to have a healthy and happy life. I am very proud of the workshops that we held with the girls and it is something that I would love to see carried out in the future.