A unique journey and Facebook (LINK:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsE1Cbp0tDk)
I began a first-of-its-kind global campaign on menstrual hygiene management on a contemporary medium-the social media, in particular, Facebook on the occasion of the first ever International Menstrual Hygiene Day that fell on 28th May 2014. The campaign was unique because it had been planned with zero funds and was implemented single handed by me. I have been working on the taboos, stigma, myths and lack of access to information and supply of hygienic sanitary material during menstruation in rural India for three years now and I felt I must do something on this occasion which posed a wonderful opportunity to make an impact! I chose Facebook as my medium because I am an avid user of social media for all my programmes and initiatives on social development and from experience I knew that it will work to reach people in my country and overseas.
Mission and vision of 'Breaking the Silence and Celebrating the Red Droplets' global campaign
‘Breaking the Silence’ and ‘Celebrating the Red Droplets’ rested on the vision to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene and issues revolving around it in the country and the mission to engage as many girls, boys, women and men on the campaign and disseminate basic information to them on the biology of menstruation, the know-how of its hygienic management and the socio-cultural aspects of menstruation.
When I set out I was clear what I wanted to achieve and what could I expect at the end of it. My objective was to reach people who have internet and are Facebook users (and I knew there are 1.11 billion people as per March 2013 data of active Facebook users that I could reach) and deliver the message that menstrual blood is not impure, and just how important it is to begin a conversation on menstruation so that we could banish the stigma, myths and taboos around it and bring good health and enabling environment for adolescent girls and women.
I prepared to work against the tide of age-old traditions and beliefs embedded in our age-old traditions and beliefs and propagate a value –
"Let no part of a girl/woman’s biology be the cause of her suffering and subjugation. Let her biology not hold her back from realizing her potential. Menstrual blood is not impure.”
I was aware that the women in my country who come from villages would not be on Facebook and I will not be reaching them directly. I had this conviction that by an effective campaign among internet users from urban space in the world, I could perhaps link international organizations which were working on the ground on menstrual hygiene, domestic NGOs and activists, media personnel who are sensitive to the issue of menstruation and the common netizen(net citizen) and this bridge would impact the program on menstruation and raise awareness among people.
Menstruation is a big deal not just in India but even in countries in Africa and America. The myth that the menstrual blood is impure has led to a kind of stigma that has acted as the biggest barrier making a mother unable to tell/educate her daughter on getting menstruation about how to manage the blood, the cramps, the discomfort and the psychological effects and the adolescent girls, sometimes, does not even get sanitary material to use. Such stigma is unhealthy and the health and well-being of the adolescent girl is compromised. Communities across India have some form of discrimination and several taboos and myth .Why is such treatment given out to girls and women for a biological phenomenon of menstruation, which gives women the power ‘to give birth/life? It is time we banish the stigma, myths and taboos and ‘break the silence’ and educate women and girls, so that the women can take care of themselves and educate their daughters and the girls can educate their peers and younger siblings.
My participants (the people I interviewed) were representatives of international agencies which work on menstrual hygiene around the world, media representatives who have experience in working on the issue, menstrual hygiene trainers and activists, powerful and inspiring women from around the world who are known to be leaders in their community, adolescent girls/mothers/women and boys/men/fathers.
My campaign included interviews of eminent public health and programme implementing professionals in the field of menstrual hygiene, key messages from representatives of international agencies, NGOs, activists and journalists, video messages from powerful women in the social impact sector, a helpline for girls to access information on menstruation and a test for guys to help them gauge their information level on the subject. Certificates were given to guys who took the ‘guy test’ and scored 100% and the meritorious recipients were branded as ambassadors of ‘Breaking the Silence’ Campaign and capable of sharing accurate basic information on menstruation among their peers.
These several components were designed by me to serve the purpose of delivering information on menstruation, initiatives on menstruation, individual perspectives of people participating in my campaign and to engage guys into a conversation over the subject. I made it my objective to reach the guys in my campaign because I believed they are an integral part of a girl/woman’s environment.
I interviewed eminent professionals of menstrual hygiene from around the world on skype, those who are from international organizations and NGOs, activists and trainers, grass-root workers and campaigners and carried these interviews on the campaign on Facebook. WASH United(Germany), Start of Hope Transformation Centre(Nigeria), Azadi (India), Goonj(India), Praveen Lata Sansthan(India), World Pulse(USA), MITU(India), Christian Council of Nigeria(Nigeria), Zephania Free Education(Pakistan) were some of the organizations which joined the campaign through my interviews.
Another important component of Breaking the Silence Campaign were the video messages from powerful women in the social impact sector who talked about their situation in their country and recommended their solution for these problems around menstruation. I was receiving video messages from an education activist from Pakistan, from a top official in the United Nations in Geneva among others.
I launched a helpline on Facebook for girls and women who could post their concerns, either as a comment there or for privacy reasons, or as a message on my inbox. I then called these girls either on skype or phone and provided them support and information. I received several queries and requests for help that it was almost intimidating. So many girls needed help!
The GUY TEST was a test to gauge the information level guys possessed on the subject of menstruation. The guys who took the test posted their answers on the campaign album on Facebook and I got back to them with the scores. Any guy who scored 100% won a certificate that branded them as ‘ambassadors of breaking the silence campaign’, deeming them fit to share basic information on menstruation with their peers.
Certificates and visibility of the guy participants in the campaign
Guys took the test in large numbers, and sent in their pictures with the certificates they have won. It clearly showed they were open to learning about menstruation and be supportive in giving accurate information to others on it. The campaign included pictures and messages from all these guys who have now become ambassadors of breaking the silence campaign. All the women participants of the campaign received a certificate of ‘ambassadors of the red droplets’ on the completion of the campaign.
Prizes to make leaders I gave out prizes to the best message on menstruation from a guy, the best concern shared by a girl, the youngest guy to take the GUY TEST, the best volunteer.
Menstrual Hygiene Walk (25th May 2014 Malleshwaram Bangalore) My campaign culminated into a menstrual hygiene walk of 3.5 km in collaboration with MITU NGO in the centre of the city of Bangalore which was led by school and college girls, activists, journalists and citizens. The walk symbolised demanding a space where girls and women could discuss about their concerns and needs and find solutions together.
Training to girls in different countries and parts of India through skype I also held training for girls and women groups through skype on the biology of menstruation, hygienic management and the need to banish stigma, myths and taboos. The first training under the breaking the silence campaign was for a group of girls from Pakistan on 25th May 2014 .
A MHM film I am developing a short 20 minute film on Breaking the Silence Campaign which will capture all the activities, participants and their engagement with the issue during the campaign, their messages and so on. This film will act as an education and advocacy tool.
The Impact and Outcome
‘Breaking the Silence’ Campaign received special media attention and appreciation from the key organizations and agencies which have a mandate on menstrual hygiene at international and national level. KBOO Bread& Roses, America’s longest running women’s radio programme carried my interview and details about my campaign on a special feature programme on May 23. A documentary film maker from Manipur is set to make a short documentary film on my work, campaign and goal in the area of women’s health and rights.
America’s longest running radio programme, KBOO Bread &Roses, carried my interview and details of my campaign as a Friday night special feature programme on 23rd May 2014 (Link: http://kboo.fm/content/may28thisinternationalmentrualhygieneday) Celebrity Film Director from Manipuri Film industry, Romi Meitei, endorsed ‘Breaking the Silence’ Campaign and said that it is important everyone is aware of the need to talk about menstruation and find solutions. Several journalists covered the campaign in their feature articles as one of its kind and that which advocates the need to banish taboos and myths for good health of menstruating girls and women. My campaign was carried by several newspapers on their Facebook pages and by men and women who shared it with friends on their Facebook wall. The vast projection of the issue through the campaign served to initiate debate over menstruation among boys and girls. The campaign GUY TEST has been successful in disseminating the basic information on menstruation among guys. The ones who scored 100% won the Campaign Certificate. One guy got his certificate framed, another showed it to his mother, a man showed his certificate to his wife and said she was very happy that he was bold and had the courage to take the role in raising awareness on menstruation, another guy has made his Facebook cover page the picture of him holding his certificate. The campaign succeeded to a large degree to engage boys and men into the campaign and conversation around menstruation which used to be considered a woman’s issue. 13 year old Madhav Chatturvedi from Bangalore was the youngest male participants. The guys who participated in the campaign volunteered to help me in my programme on menstrual hygiene and till date, lend me support in organizing and implementation. The campaign came under the radar of international agencies and media who had an event organized for the international menstrual hygiene day and the prospect of collaboration widened. It helped connect agencies, NGOs, programme implementers, grass-root workers and individuals working on menstrual hygiene. Initiated conversation among girls to begin talking about menstruation among themselves. Support Many girls and guys from Bangalore, Manipur, other parts of India and even overseas from America, Nigeria, Pakistan expressed their willingness to support the campaign and initiative. One such person has taken the lead to share all information about the campaign with people, newspapers and groups, another person supported me to write press releases, few others volunteered to help me with other activities. The intangible impact has been generation of willingness to support the cause of menstrual hygiene, among people who have seen and liked the campaign/cause. More international partners have committed to support my initiative; more organizations have approached me for training girls and women. Wide media coverage received- TV, radio, print media and internet media Times of India wrote ‘Manipuri woman busts myth around menses’. LINK: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Manipuri-woman-busts-my... Sangai Express wrote ‘Breaking the Silence Campaign gathers new height’. LINK: http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/page/items/39072/break-the-silence-campa... Huiyen Lanpao wrote ‘On a mission to break silence surrounding droplets’. LINK: http://www.hueiyenlanpao.com/headlines/item/20225-on-a-mission-to-break-... People’s Chronicle wrote ‘Campaign against stigma associated with menstrual blood'. LINK: http://thepeopleschronicle.in/?p=38296 E-Pao, Manipur’s leading news portal wrote ‘On a mission to break silence surrounding red droplets.’ LINK: http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=22..250514.may14 Advice Analogy in USA wrote ‘Make sure to join Urmila’s social media campaign which includes ….’ LINK: http://www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org/menstrual-hygiene-day-and-breakin... Several media personnel- print, electronic, film volunteered to extend help to carry the message far and wide through their source Inter Press Service News Agency wrote, ‘Indian girl breaks taboos on menstrual hygiene.’ LINK: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/indian-girls-break-taboos-menstrual-hygiene/ IMPACT TV NEWS wrote ‘Urmila Chanam’s campaign is a revolution to bring a change in woman’s health care and hygiene so that one day every woman can enjoy the fundamental right to live with dignity and pride.’ LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9D0B0ilnPM NE NEWS wrote ‘Urmila’s campaign has forced us to look at an issue subdued for generations.’ LINK: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152456451829929&set=vb.671709928&... 350 individuals engaged on the campaign post on Manipur Times, discussing, debating on if menstruation should/should not be discussed in a public forum. Pakistani women trained on menstruation MITU walk, a 3-5 km walk in the middle of Bangalore with supporters, both women and men to break the silence. WASH United, Germany declared Breaking the Silence Campaign as an important event not to be missed on 28th May 2014 globally. Entered a partnership with Manipur Times as the campaign media partner and source for disseminating key messages on menstruation to the mass.
“ The countdown has begun for 28th May 2014, the first ever international menstrual hygiene day. I want all the girls and women out there to know that the menstrual blood is not impure. Menstruation is what gives you the power of giving birth. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Let us celebrate the red droplets and break the silence today! Join my campaign on Facebook and take the lead in banishing myths!
I am looking for international and national NGOs who have a wide community outreach who can support me to reach adolescent girls and women in remote parts of the country and even overseas, so that I can train them in schools or localities. I am also looking for partners in media-electronic, print, social media and web who can support me in disseminating information on menstrual hygiene periodically and reach the mass.I am also keen to form an alliance with schools, colleges, institutions, community based organizations and social enterprises, self help groups and organizations/companies who realize the need to sensitize their staff and team on menstrual hygiene for better health of girls and women .”
The Campaign on Facebook: Few Glimpses
By Urmila Chanam Social development professional in HIV and public health, gender rights activist & journalist India Reach me @firstname.lastname@example.org