Long Read
6 October 2016

Making Periods Normal: challenging norms and changes in the communities

At the end op September 2016, Hilda Alberda, Simavi’s Senior Programme Officer SRHR, visited our Making Periods Normal Programme in India. Together with Rutgers and Women on Wings,  Simavi started implementing this programme two years ago with support of the National Postcode Lottery. After an impressive journey, Hilda shared some of the highlights of her field visit and the programme in this blog.

“The first part of our visit was a joint field trip. Our  local partners in India (BVHA and SEWA for Simavi, Restless Development and Pratham for Rutgers and DharmaLife for Women on Wings) organised the trip together. With representatives from all organisations we visited communities where we met teachers, female entrepreneurs, peer educators, health workers and groups of men, women and/or young people that are involved in our programme. We participated in lessons of trained teachers, quizzes on menstrual health by groups of men, stalls on menstrual health prepared by young people and had many conversations with groups of men and women.

We were all blown away by the impressive changes that happened in the communities where we worked. There is a clear increase of knowledge from our awareness raising campaigns and the demand and access to sanitary napkins also improved greatly. During previous visits we already heard stories about women and girls touching pickles to test if they will go bad during their menstruation – thus starting to challenge existing norms. This time women shared that they are now allowed to  and even go for prayer (Punjab) during their menstruation – one of the norms that we thought would be very hard to challenge!

It is great to see that the impact of our programme goes beyond knowledge, practice and access to sanitary napkins. For example, we noticed changes in views on gender equality and the division of household tasks; men are now helping women out in the household during their menstruation. And although access to water and sanitation is not an objective of the programme, our partners have jointly advocated for this with the local government and supported households to build toilets – when possible by accessing government funds. We spoke to local government representatives that now prioritised WASH in schools in their villages and we have seen quite a number of newly build toilets! We also booked a huge success through Pratham, the partner of Rutgers, who will now support the Government of Bihar to roll out the menstrual health lessons in schools in the entire state of Bihar (apparently 38.000 schools!). The materials are already printed by the Government.

In addition to the impact in the field, the collaboration of the alliance is worth mentioning. Working in an alliance of health and education NGOs as well as a social business partner was new for the local partners involved, so we invested a lot in bringing the partners together. Where initially partners were critical of each others approaches, now they find each other in the communities where they work and in connecting supply and demand.

We are now at the beginning of the last year of the programme and all partners have exit and sustainability strategies in place and presented these to each other. During the workshop they developed a joint strategy to ensure sustainability of the programme as a whole. In addition to that, during our workshop the partners jointly presented the joint activities that they implemented last year. It is so impressive to see how the local partners work together, how they support each other and how they jointly organised a march on Menstrual Hygiene Day, stands at district level fairs, a model village and jointly advocate with the district and state level government. I had goose bumps listening to their presentation.

We are confident that the programme will excel in the final year; both our work in the field and the collaboration between the partners. Our hope is that together with the government, we can institutionalise the programme as a whole as we believe all aspects are crucial for better menstrual health of women and girls in Munger and Bhagalpur.

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