Bollywood celebrities, medical professionals and social activists gathered for a special event in Delhi to mark the Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May. Bulbul Sharma reports from the venue.

 

On 28 May, Delhi’s ITC Maurya Sheraton hosted a special event to celebrate International Menstrual Hygiene Day in the presence of prominent activists, social workers, women icons and Bollywood celebrities. The day also marked the official launch of the Niine Movement, a five-year campaign to promote awareness of menstrual hygiene in India, and break the social taboos attached to this subject.

The Niine movement is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Amar Tulsiyan.

“When a woman is pregnant it is good news but when it comes to periods nobody wants to talk about it,” said Tulsiyan. “It is the menstrual cycle that gives the message that a woman can bear a child. And we are born after completing nine months in our mother’s womb. Hence the name, Niine Movement. It is a tribute to our mothers.”

Veteran actress and activist Shabana Azmi was also among the attendees at this “Menstrual Awareness Conclave”. She was part of a panel discussion on “Loss Fertility in Females”, and spoke about her association with the cause of promoting menstrual hygiene since the 1990s.

Shabana Azmi at the Delhi conclave.

“I work in the villages and I found out that women, especially in the rural areas, use cloth, they don’t use sanitary pads. It is said that only 18% women in India use sanitary pads. So, these [rural] women would recycle the cloth by washing it. But they would not be able to hang it out in the sun to dry because it was such a matter of shame for it to be recognised as menstrual cloth. And so they would dry it under the mattresses of the cot, leading to inevitable infections. Even in the 21st century India, women don’t have a patch of sunlight to call their own. And that hit me so much,” she said.

Azmi also lauded Akshay Kumar, also among the celebrity guests here, for his movie Pad Man, which deals with the subject of menstrual hygiene.

She said, “Akshay Kumar and Twinkle had the courage to make the film on menstrual hygiene and that was an important win. It is not possible to take this initiative forward unless we involve men.”

Azmi also made it clear that it isn’t solely the responsibility of celebrities to work for social change. Ordinary people had to do their bit as well. She said, “Everyone is a stakeholder here. Everyone can contribute to a campaign like this.”

The panel discussion also touched upon the importance of using biodegradable and organic sanitary pads.

The panel also included names like Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP Member of Parliament and a Supreme Court lawyer.

Lekhi said, “Microplastic is a big challenge that needs to be managed.”

“Microplastic is polluting oceans, seas and our ecosystem at large.  Imagine how a country like ours, which is a resource deficit country, would cope with this environmental hazard. More women starting to use plastic polymer-based sanitary pads is not a solution. The solution is using organic pads, and using the right kinds of pads that don’t add to the burden of environmental damage,” she also said.

Lekhi also emphasised on how crucial scientific thinking is, in fighting the taboos that surround the subject of menstruation. She said, “Menstruation is not an ailment, and the old point of view needs to change. I think unscientific thinking needs to go out… This is the land of Kamakhya Devi, where you are celebrating menstruation. So we’ve gone from celebrating menstruation to looking down on someone menstruating, which is a [negative] civilisational change.”

Other panellists who participated in the discussion were Nishtha Satyam, Deputy Representative, UN Women India; and Dr Jaideep Malhotra, President of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India. YouTuber Aranya Johar was also at the conclave, and performed her poem “Bleeding Rani” for the audiences.

The second-panel discussion was on the “Impact of Menstrual Hygiene Measures on Education”, on how adolescent girls tend to avoid going to school, for various reasons, when they are having their periods. The panellists included Dr Bindu Rana, CEO and Founder of Millennium Education Management; Lata Vaidyanathan, Director TERI Prakriti Schooll; Dr Jennifer Butler, Deputy Regional Director, United Nations Population Fund; Architect and interior designer Raseel Gujral; and Geetanjali Marndi, a teenager from a village in Odisha.

The chief guest at the event, actor Akshay Kumar, felicitated nine people for spreading awareness of menstrual hygiene across India. The nine “Pad Heroes” honoured at the conclave were Dr Bharti Lavekar; Deane De Menezes; Poorvi and Suhani Mittal; Meena Mehta; Dr Geeta Bora; Mangesh Jha; Geentanjali Marndi; Parveen Sheikh; and Avish Sharma.

The 50-year-old actor also performed a song, “Let’s Talk About Periods”, at the conclave. Kumar stressed on the need to educate young boys about menstruation, in order to spread awareness across the gender divide. “We need to teach young boys how to behave first,” Kumar said. “[The way boys generally behave] is also the reason why girls drop out of schools. I read somewhere that “Never mess with someone who bleeds five days a month but does not die, and that’s the power of a woman. This phrase is for every man. After hearing it I made Pad Man.”

Kumar, who has starred in socially relevant movies like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Pad Man, said that commercial cinema has the power to bring about positive change in society. He said, “Documentary films won’t help because people want to see hero-heroine falling in love, fighting with parents, fighting with villains. Commercial cinema creates such an impact because audiences can relate with the actors.”

 

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