World wide, whether it’s in the developed or the developing world, menses - or menarche - has been a word shrouded in a culture of shame and silence for countless young girls and women. This lingering silence, combined with inadequate information and lack of access to sanitary pads or even clean cloth, has resulted in some shocking practices and cruel realities for millions. Sand, ash, rags, and jute gunny bags are used during menses, and many times nothing at all is used, as many struggle to get even basic clothes to wear. Extreme poverty in some remote areas even forces women to share the same piece of cloth. Consider these statistics.
- Around 70% of women in India say their families cannot afford to buy sanitary pads.
- A study from UNICEF revealed that 1 out of 3 girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation prior to starting it, and 48% of girls in Iran and 10% of girls in India believe that menstruation is a disease.
- At least one in five girls in India drop out of school when periods begin, according to research by AC Nielsen and Plan India. It is very common (41% and 28%, respectively in Nepal and India, Water Aid survey, 2009) that female students either miss school or perform poorly because of lack of facilities.
Although this is a complex issue with different challenges like access, affordability, and awareness about menstrual hygiene, the prime link is the silence. The silence is felt the most by countless young girls around the world, who are not taught what menstruation is until their first period. Many girls think they are dying when this happens. Male family members have no knowledge of menstruation, and girls do not feel comfortable even talking to their mothers about the subject. In turn, this culture of silence creates a culture of shame and embarrassment around menstruation in families and communities. Although many organizations are working on distributing sanitary napkins to adolescent girls and women in the most underprivileged communities, the issue is larger and more deeply ingrained in our collective cultural psyche.
To mainstream this issue and to shun the taboo around this natural biological process, Goonj, an India-based nonprofit, has launched the NJPC - A Million Voices campaign, bringing together a million voices shunning the taboo on menses. NJPC stands for Not Just a Piece of Cloth. The main element of this global online campaign at www.njpc.goonj.org is a questionnaire aimed at getting one million men and women from all walks of life to share their thoughts, opinions, and practices around menses. The website at www.njpc.goonj.org also shares many global facts, practices, case studies, and research on the issue. The million voices collected through this campaign will be a part of Goonj’s sustained efforts to bring about a mindset change in society on this issue.
Anshu Gupta, Founder and Director of Goonj, says, “Goonj has been working on this issue for almost a decade now. We strongly believe that 'til a dialogue is not opened up in the masses, making it a normal thing to talk about…all the taboos, embarrassment, and health risks associated with menses will continue. We have to understand that this is not just a women’s issue; it is a bigger, human issue.”
In the last few years, Goonj has distributed more than 2.5 million cloth sanitary pads called MY Pad in remote parts of the country, including a major focus during disasters from Bihar floods to Uttarakhand floods. Goonj has thus turned half a million meters of last shreds of thrown away cloth (headed for landfills otherwise) into a vital product, to address this ignored need.
Here are the six things anyone can do to be a part of this campaign..
- Complete the NJPC- A Million Voices form at http://njpc.goonj.org/lets-get-started/
- Organize a collection drive for cotton cloth.
- Contribute to the "60 dignified days" campaign http://njpc.goonj.org/what-can-i-do/
- Hold a Chuppi Toro Baithak/ Hold a Break the silence talk.
- Set up a Million Voices cart to spread the word in your area.
- Support the Million Voices campaign financially.
For more details, you can write to Goonj at firstname.lastname@example.org.