Tanya Dhingra wanted to take a tabooed conversation to them. Them. The girls whose voiceless cries always went unheard. And, she wanted to make sure that they’ll always remember it. Remember that they are not impure, not unworthy, that God doesn’t hate them.
She wanted to talk to them about periods.
Tanya remembers how period was not a whispered topic in her house – her mother and older sister had always spoken freely with her, and no question about her body, specifically the changes in it during puberty was off-limits. And yet, she hadn’t realised that it was a privilege to be able to talk about it and have all her doubts clarified, she had deemed it a basic human right.
Two years ago, Tanya was teaching in Bapudham, a marginalised colony in Chandigarh. After just two months, she had gotten close to her class of 50 girls, when she noticed a sudden drop in attendance in her English class. Since the girls had been absent for multiple consecutive days, she was advised to make home visits by the NGO she was working for then. After a few door-to-door visits she realised why nobody was being forthcoming- the girls had gotten their first period.
Nobody was willing to have a conversation about the girls’ getting their periods, because it had different annotations for each of them – for some, it meant marriage or child-bearing, but for most it meant dropping out of school because “education can’t delay their inevitable fate.”
Tanya was shocked. She wanted to change the mindset, not just of the girls, but also their mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers. She wanted to explain to the girls what happened to their bodies during periods and why they shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
The next time she came to India during her summer break, she was looking for an organization that would help her accomplish the dream of busting all the myths regarding periods and, that’s when she got in touch with CRY. Via CRY, she got hold of the details of three projects where she could conduct menstrual hygiene workshops.
The workshops were a tremendous success, with the girls responding very positively. They’d never talked so openly about their bodies and the atmosphere of lowered inhibition made sure that they were heard. Tanya also managed to speak to many of the girls’ mothers to learn what their periods had meant for them. The stigma attached to this natural, biological cycle and the lengths to which these women had to go to cover up for their supposedly impure state motivated Tanya to keep working hard and to be a more informed public health educator.
Tanya knows she is fortunate not just because she had it easier than these girls, but also because she is fluent in both Hindi and English and can thus reach out two different crowds – at home in India and the States – about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene.
Change might not happen overnight, but her work has left many girls feeling empowered and capable of being heard, which is plenty, don’t you agree?