My journey

Urmila Chanam
Posted September 17, 2015 from India
Talking ends silence on menstruation
Seen here training women in remote northeast India

The reality of my country:

Hi! I am Urmila Chanam.I come from India-the second most populous country in the world where for every 100 kilometres, you will find a new language among the people. There are as many communities and ethnic groups as there are religions and belief systems. We have spent sixty-nine years since our independence from British colonial rule struggling to find peace and understanding in this diversity and to attain food security, education, equality, livelihood opportunities,health, survival and empowerment of the marginalized.

An unrelenting patriarchy, stiff caste system that doesn't favour women, gender discrimination, sex determined abortions- female foeticide and infanticide, alarming drop in the child sex ratio and obsession with the male child, high maternal mortality, child marriage, dowry and the increasing crimes of rape and honor killing - India is all of these.

This reality about the Indian woman never escapes each one of us and we lead our lives daily, side-by-side with our vulnerabilities and situation. I often tell my friends that the only difference between an empowered woman and another is the ability to talk about our problems and reach out for help.

The distance and my journey:

I travel to remote villages in different parts of India and overseas to educate girls and women in schools, educational institutions and villages on the biology of menstruation, its hygienic management and safe and environment friendly disposal of used sanitary material. My goal is broader than just dissemination of accurate information alone and it lies in helping girls and women to shed this inhibition around their bodies and sexuality and 'break the silence' around menstruation.

I am convinced that we can move from ‘shame’ to ‘pride’ and begin to view periods as a life giving phenomenon and not something to be ashamed of.

I am convinced that there is great shift in the status and dignity of women in my country and community when women stop believing that they are 'untouchable' when they bleed every month.

Empowerment ignites from the first match of finding a perspective, a voice and ability to make choices.

For this reasonI called my campaign ' Breaking the Silence' because the biggest barrier to women's health and aspirations is our habit to remain silent in our suffering, challenges and crisis. With finding a voice there is finding a life of empowerment.

Breaking the Silence is an individual initiative that operates in nine states in India and across four countries globally in partnership with NGOs, civil society organizations, media organizations, government, other implementing agencies and the community closely. In 2015 it won the UNFPA National Laadli Awards for the Most Powerful Campaign in the country.

It wasn't always like this:

But it wasn't always like this.

A little over six years ago I joined World Pulse and spent time reading, looking and following empowered women from around the world and their individual stories, their journeys and their aspirations. It looked so perfect yet distant till gradually, over a period of time I began wanting that for myself. I took one tiny step at a time till I covered a sizeable distance and looked back to find myself to have developed into a leader in my community in my own little way.

My journey with World Pulse is a testimony of the power of women and digital empowerment. World Pulse offers a unique platform for women worldwide to connect to each other, talk about their problems and seek solutions together. This opened a new world where I had access to information on every aspect of my life, I built my level of competence, I found friends, supporters and well wishers here who believed in my work and I found immense potential for opportunities to advance myself and my cause.The internet has made this relationship possible and why shouldn't we utilise this amazing resource that enables us to 'reach out for help' and unite our voices?

How I introduce myself to others:

I love it when I say, ' I am Urmila from World Pulse.'

Comments 21

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JANEKALU
Sep 17, 2015
Sep 17, 2015

Dearest Urmila

i thank you for realizing the potentials in you, and the difference you can make. I also love in your write up when you said "I often tell my friends that the only difference between an empowered woman and another is the ability to talk about our problems and reach out for help"..if every woman should speak out concerning the problem they are going through individually,the problem of the women will be half solve.Thank you for all your effort to bring your people from the the shackles of  cultural bondage.

Urmila Chanam
Sep 18, 2015
Sep 18, 2015

Dearest sister Janekalu,

Thank you for reading my story and being able to relate to our cultural bondage. These two simple words rule the life of a woman in my community. A woman who is battered by her husband is pressurised to 'look happily married' and to live that lie, the violence in her marriage is not addressed. A girl who has been raped is made to choose to not report it to police for fear of being assigned the fault instead of who raped her. We are just living within the parametres of these two words, my sister.

Thanks for your loving words.   

Much love

Urmila Chanam

India

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Sep 17, 2015
Sep 17, 2015

Wow dear Urmila Chanam,

This is wonderful and very inspirational story. You have take a problem that affects women and found a solution for it. If we talk a bout our problems it surely relieves us of that burden of keeping quiet with it inside. Your campaign surely reminds me of myself. When i lost my dad i stopped talking about what used to hurt me and as a result i became very reserved. But with time i  realised that i was becoming very unsocial and i decided to start talking. Thats when i met my lovely husband and now i am trying to reach out to women to make them understand that you have talk about your problems inorder for people to help you. 

many women these days dont want to talk about their problems becasue they are afarid of the reactions by the community and becasue other women will talk about them behind their backs. They are also afraid to be looked at as if they dont know what they are doing. So by reaching out to them and encourgaing them to talk you have surely done well my sister.

I would like to know how you build these womens' confidence and encourage them to talk. Do youo meet with them in groups or on an individual basis?

I ask this becasue when we have women groups some women who have gone through alot never speak and are shy to open up even when we try and meet them on an individual basis. 

I have realised that working with women is very sensitive because as women we tend to accomodate a lot and are very secretive. So the way we approach these women matters alot.

Good work my dear sister and be blessed. I am sure we shall learn  alot from each other.

Urmila Chanam
Sep 18, 2015
Sep 18, 2015

Dearest sister Anita,

I am touched by your personal account of having lost your dad and how you built a fence around you following that incident. Most women are great at living in shells and shutting the world around them, believing the solution lies within us and not acknowledging help lies with people. The shoulders that could cushion you may not be a family member. The fear embedded in us women is one that has been propagated to keep us away from seeking friendship, love, bonding and solution, is my belief.

I meet women in groups. I also meet them individually, depending on my programme model which includes both. No matter what the ratio is, I go meet women taking my life and my journey as the beginning of understanding each other. I then tell them what I found in my own life, the mistakes I made, how easy it was to seek solution.

I then wait.

I have always and always found that women respond to this always.

Women trust if you trust them with your own life story.

I wish you the best in all your endeavors and I hope we will be in communication.

Love and hugs, Urmila Chanam, India

Omoy k Williams
Sep 20, 2015
Sep 20, 2015

Your journey is truly inspirational. As women, some of us bear an inate sense of pride for the purpose of self-preservation. I'm inspired by your approach at  building a community of women who supports each other.

Urmila Chanam
Sep 21, 2015
Sep 21, 2015

Dearest Omoy,

You said it so well- 'self preservation'. 'We' are best 'together' and we are strongest when together.

Love and hugs from India

Urmila Chanam

nikhila.sl
Sep 21, 2015
Sep 21, 2015

Dear Urmila,

I can't begin to tell you how inspired I am after reading your post. Greatness is not achieved overnight, one has to work for it day in and day out. You are such a wonderful yet simple example of greatness. I am from India too, so I understand when you talk about the social stigma that comes with anything "woman" - how they are viewed, how their achievements are viewed, how they are judged, how they are taken for granted, how they are stereotyped, how they are under-recognized and how they are just "supposed" to live their lives.   Many Congratulations on the UNFPA award, you and your initiative "Breaking the Silence" totally deserve it, especially considering the subject that is so taboo in India.

I wish you the best, Nikhila

Sep 21, 2015
Sep 21, 2015
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Urmila Chanam
Sep 27, 2015
Sep 27, 2015

Thank you my dear Nikhila. From which part of India are you, if I may ask? I grew up thinking periods was meant to be painful and filled with discomfort but what was most appalling is I grew up thinking it was a lonesome journey. Now I want to change all of that. It need not be lonesome or uncomfortable at all. Please do keep in touch.

Love and regards,

Urmila Chanam

nikhila.sl
Oct 01, 2015
Oct 01, 2015

Hi Urmila,

I used to live in Bangalore for a long time before I came to the US. Yes, I will definitely be in touch with you here. Looking forward to more interaction. Best Wishes for "Breaking the Silence".

-Nikhila

Urmila Chanam
Oct 15, 2015
Oct 15, 2015

Dear Nikhila,

I agree that nothing good and great is built in a day. It takes a lifetime to build something. It took me eight years to build strength and I build it brick by brick. I feel rejuvenated after having shared my life's trauma of years in World Pulse. It has been almost a month since I wrote this story and I have evolved in these four weeks. I have grown. Thank you for reading my story and reaching out to me.

Love and hugs

Urmila Chanam

BarbaraP
Sep 21, 2015
Sep 21, 2015

Dear Urmila,

I read your story with great interest and understanding.  I have a daughter who has lived for over 10 years in India.  She tells me, and I witnessed first hand when I visited her, that when she has her period, she is not allowed to enter the ashram, which is her home.  

What you are doing is amazing!  You have clearly used your voice and the expertise of World Pulse to go about making a change in the way women view their bodies and how others treat them.  This is very important work and I love the title of your project, Breaking the Silence.  Too often women take a passive role in their lives, afraid to be vocal and cause problems.  You are helping them have a voice.  You are a role model to them.  I look forward to following your journey and hearing what you do in the future. 

All the best!

Barbara

Urmila Chanam
Oct 15, 2015
Oct 15, 2015

Dear Barbara,

If your daughter was here then you must know India so well! How are things in your country? I would like to know. Do mothers teach their daughters? Are daughters open to their mothers or friends? Thank you for the appreciation of my efforts. It feels wonderful to connect.

Much love and prayers,

Urmila Chanam

BarbaraP
Oct 16, 2015
Oct 16, 2015

Dear Urmilla,

You asked me if mothers teach their daughters in the US.  I presume you mean about their periods and how to take care of them.  Yes, usually it is the mother, but I'm sure girls talk to each other about this also.  Mothers will help them understand the life change, how they are growing up and also how to keep clean. It can be a challenging and even scary time for girls. We have much better options available here, than you do in India, I'm sure.  And much more public awareness and acceptance of it.

It's interesting to note that currently in the US breastfeeding in public is getting a lot of attention.  Many people still feel it should not be done except in private and force nursing women to go into hiding, like into a bathroom stall!

Take care and keep up the good work.

Barbara

Juksmori
Sep 22, 2015
Sep 22, 2015

Dear Urmilla,

Your story is truly inspirational. Helping women to speak up on such issues is very challenging and I commend you on your campaign "Breaking the Silence".

keep up the good work.

Juksmori

Urmila Chanam
Oct 15, 2015
Oct 15, 2015

Dear Juksmori, Thank you for reading my story and sharing my journey. Women are so unique- they are just waiting to open up and are inhibited initially but after much pursuit they are capable of sharing, honesty and acceptance. Love from India Urmila Chanam

Tejaswini Tilak
Sep 23, 2015
Sep 23, 2015

Hi Urmila, 

Coming from India, I can identify with the taboo associated with menstrual cycles. On the one hand there are public declarations of a girl becoming "mature" through various rituals and celebrations where the girl is dressed up as a bride and friends and relatives are invited. And, on the other hand, she is shunned each month to a corner of the house as an untouchable, not allowed to enter temples, cook, etc. 

This experience is from urban cities. So, in the villages where you work, the misery and shame experienced by women must be multi-fold!

It's great to hear about your story breaking out of the silence. Wish you all the best!

Regards,

Tejaswini

Urmila Chanam
Oct 16, 2015
Oct 16, 2015

Dear Tejaswini,

I secretly believe that these observations are not celebrations but declarations that the girl who has just got menses is of marriagable age which is again sad because there should be no age for that. Unless we see these rituals for what they are and trace the harm it has done to our standing in our households and families, these will go on.

Thanks for reading my story. Let us stop this madness.

Love and prayers,

Urmila Chanam

FUNMI AKERELE
Sep 24, 2015
Sep 24, 2015

Dearest sister,

I am dancing with exictment, i cant contain my happiness in meeting someone of like minds who is helping girls and women to celebrate their uniqueness, finding their voices and not ashamed at being who they are. i have followed the breaking the silence camapign as i also have a campaign like that as well. thumbs up, kudos, great works. not only have you done very well you have encourage me to believe and do as that is an essential journey for girls and women to define to achieve thewir potentials. it will be great to connect together, we share the same thoughts. thanks for your voice and thanks for you.

Mary Morgan
Oct 02, 2015
Oct 02, 2015

Sometimes I'm not sure which is worse; an unrelenting patriarchy that is blatantly supported in a society, or the subtle micro-aggressive way a patriarchal or mysoginistic culture can permeate almost imperceptibly. 

I had a good education growing up and my father is a family practice doctor so he sent me to sexual education classes; I watched videos from National Geographic or other informational material, charts and graphs. And yet when I reached menarche I didn't tell a soul because I was embarrassed still. People tend to treat women's bodies as if they are everyone's business. I share a vision as I know you do where women are honored and respected without such weird reactions to biological functions!

Heather Ley
Feb 03, 2016
Feb 03, 2016

Thank you for sharing your inspirational story, your passions, and the amazing work you are doing to create positive change!