This post comes from the grassroot work led by Breaking the Silence in Ukhrul district in India's northeastern state of Manipur and has been developed from the field diary with an aim to share experiences from the region inhabited by tribal community Tangkhul Naga.
Ukhrul, 27 May 2018
Tangkhul Hungdung Khullen, a village 65 km from Imphal city first got electricity 20 years ago in 1998 but the villagers enjoyed it only for a week and the electricity supply halted abruptly. Since 1998 this settlement with 150 households live in pitch darkness whether it be summer, winter or monsoons. In the rainy season when the mud roads connecting the region to Imphal is slushy with mud and water posing danger to travelers on a vehicle or on foot, electricity would have helped a lot. The village elders and leaders have gone to the electricity department and district administration umpteenth times but no one from the department or government ever came to the village to repair. Just last month a team came to check what was the problem and came up with the explanation that the transformer was not working because people had not paid their electricity bill! Now villagers are unable to reason out a pending bill when they have never used any electricity in 20 years.
Breaking the Silence, a campaign that aims to educate communities on women's health with emphasis on facilities and infrastructure needed to achieve menstrual hygiene is now working in Ukhrul district. A community mass awareness program was conducted in the village community hall attended by more than 200 women and men, girls and boys, church and community leaders and senior citizens.
The sensitization workshop was gender inclusive because menstruation is not just a woman's issues it is everyone's issue. Additionally, men have a large role to play in ensuring procurement and use of hygienic material to absorb menstrual fluid, construction and use of toilets, supply of clean water and in busting age old myths and taboos that surround menstruation. Men form half the world just like women form the other half, making it nevessary for inclusion of men in programs that address women issues.
The senior age category men believed that menstruation is dirty and explained that the blood stains on clothes of girls and women are an unpleasant sight and looks gross. Other men expressed that there must be some wisdom to the customary laws observed with menstruating girls and women and it is not in the good interest of the community to defy these old customs.A retired headmaster of a government school said he will never agree that menstruation is not dirty and rationalised his statement on the basis of how filthy the blood smears look. Only a few men and women infact 25% believed that menstruation is not dirty or a disease and had basic idea of monthly natural phenomenon.
The training included discussing the local myths and practices, what Science says about menstruation, the harmful effects of propogating practices, a demonstration of different sanitary products and their safe disposal.
Founder Urmila Chanam said, ' Even if men do not menstruate they still have a role in discussions relates to menstruation because they are father, husband, brother, colleague and neighbors and knowledge will make them be supportive and encouraging to women's need.
The program was supported by the local woman society, Kabongram Baptist Church and Village Authority Chairman Shri K.B Son. Breaking the Silence team included Urmila Chanam, Silvia Rimai and Agui Kamei.
Ukhrul, 28 May 2018
On the occasion of International Menstrual Hygiene Day when the rest of the world was focussed on raising awareness about the challenges women face during their menstruation, in remote hills of Manipur in Ukhrul's Tangkhul Hungdung Khullen a village 65 kms from Imphal, Breaking the Silence conducted an awareness programfor students studying in Tangkhul Khullen Government High School for adolescent girls and celebrated the significant day where girls took a pledge to end the shame associated with menstruation and speak up to help friends, sisters, others in the community.
The campaign which traveled the length and breadth of Manipur's three hill districts of Noney, Tamenglong and Ukhrul conducted workshops on menstrual hygiene not just for girls and women but for boys and men and entire community with an aim to build a supportive environment for girls and women. Besides the initiative also studied the infrastructure and facilities needed for menstrual hygiene.
Villagers,community leaders, teachers, old women shared their daily struggle to secure basic amenities like electricity and what it is to live without power for 20 years and not have anyone come to repair. A woman said,' Its not like they can't do it. They just don't care! Because we live far from Imphal or district headquarters Ukhrul does not mean we don't exist!' The students say they have never been taught about menstruation by their mothers and most of them said they use cloth mostly. The Primary Health Center of this area got burnt down way back in 1979 and the 150 household strong village inhabited by Tangkhuls of Manipur do not have any health facility available to them. The common thread here from this village in Ukhrul is both the electricity not working and getting repaired since 1998 and the Primary Health Center never being reconstructed sinve 1979.Breaking the Silence 2018 Manipur Campaign came to and end and will consolidate its findings to share with the government of India. Its primary recommendation will include electricity, roads, transportation, functional primary health center, availability and affordability of hygienic sanitary material and clean water supply in villages in Noney, Tamenglong and Ukhrul.
Visit our website at http://breakingthesilencereddroplets.com/
Note: This article was published in the People's Chronicle the largest English newspaper in Manipur state in India and Youth Ki Awaaz India's largest youth platform and was developed as a recommendation to the Government of India and Government of Manipur from the field experience of Breaking the Silence, a campaign focused on educating girls and women on menstrual hygiene and health.