Technology and my impact in menstrual health, activism in women's empowerment and media/publicity work in rural development and social justice

Urmila Chanam
Posted April 2, 2020 from India
Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation is an international initiative to raise awareness on menstruation as a life-giving natural phenomenon banishing age old beliefs and customs of its impurity or curses to bring about a supportive world where menstruating girls and women can manage their menstruation with pride and privacy.
Breaking the Silence, a campaign that teaches girls and women to take pride of their body, physiology and menstruation and uses every medium available including social media and skype/video conferencing for these sensitizations to reach as many persons in different parts of India and different countries. (1/15)

My program a #COVID19 Special episode on Radio Active Community Radio 90.4 MHz with Vezokho Resu, President Of North East Welfare Association, Karnataka (NEWAK) where he shares about how the #lockdown has impacted the #NorthEast Community in Bengaluru.

Introduction

Hello sisters on World Pulse, our thriving, pulsating and vibrant global sisterhood. My name is Urmila Chanam and I am from India. Some of you may have known me for many years and to some, I may be a new face.

I am a (i) social entrepreneur and run my organization Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation, an NGO registered under section 8 Company Act in India. I am also involved in (ii) activism around women's empowerment, digital literacy and inclusion of women and equality. Besides this I am a (iii) print and broadcasting journalist and columnist focussing on rural development, agriculture/horticulture, environment conservation, art and culture, community development and tourism and do several projects and assignments for (iv) media and publicity coverage for different agencies and departments.

Use of technology allows me to have three roles in the social development sector. Technology has assisted me in my daily work, organizational mission, staying updated on global developments and trends including news, staying connected with others and last but not the least, express my opinion and share my experiences and message with the world.

Technology to usher in gender equality

Technology- the internet, use of laptop, PCs, tab, smartphones to its full optimal potential, different apps, programs and softwares and the connectivity that emerges out of that can be quite a game changer for any person in their worklife and in personal life as well. Use of technology can increase efficiency and impact by multifold and conserve your energy, longevity and mental health and non-use can lead to loss in the same areas mentioned. Study shows that women have lesser access to the internet, thereby have lesser chances of exposure to technology and developing digital skills due to the deep underlying gender inequalities in our cultures and society. Most importantly, use of technology is a boon in cultures where mobility of girls and women is a barrier in attaining education, working or running business.

Therefore, it is very important for girls to be taught about computers at an early age either by making sure schools offer computer science as a mandatory subject in their curriculum with practical classes for hands- on learning or by teaching them at homes or community. Learning about computers in a fast developing economy like ours (India) is not just important but an essential life skill as a professional, citizen of a society and a family member.

I learnt computers in school from class 8 onwards (14 years) but had access to a PC much later in my early twenties in my second job as a marketing executive in a computer education firm . Having access to a laptop (somebody else's) took several more years and I reached a phase when I had my own laptop from work in my late twenties. I bought my own laptop three years ago and till then I was using the office laptop. Nearly after two decades I can say I have attained some kind of technology independence!

In these many phases I realise now at hindsight that the opportunities that came my way, the levels of information I possessed, the solutions I had access to and the level of intellectual development were directly proportional to access to technology and its liberal use. Technology related expertise, facility and independence ispart of a process and may not come just like that in a day but its a journey well worth taking.

Technology related expertise, facility and independence is part of a process and may not come just like that in a day but its a journey well worth taking."

My work in menstrual hygiene management and sexual reproductive health and use of technology (please see the pictures and description in the gallery)

Breaking the Silence initiative teaches girls and women to take pride in their body, physiology and menstruation and uses every medium available for these sensitizations to reach as many persons for the behaviour change we envisage through workshops and seminars, sessions in schools and colleges, village meetings, training of trainers, articles on newspapers and radio programs, messaging through social media and Skype/video conferencing for reaching girls and women in isolate communities or far flung areas to enbale them to be in-charge of their menstrual health and overall well-being.

An informed girl becomes an informed woman who is the epitome of women's empowerment and a ray of inspiration for women in her community.

Though the first step and indicator of impact may be attainment of menstrual hygiene and better health among girls and women, this can be the entry point to address gender inequality and aims to usher in a habit and culture of practising behaviours in line with human rights.

Since 2014, the total number of girls and women, men and boys trained are 18,180 and hundreds of thousands through social media, and print and broadcasting media through approaches like - 

  • Working in schools, colleges and institutions
  • Working with women and mothers
  • Giving sessions online overcoming physical and existing cultural barriers
  • Working with men and fathers
  • Working with the government, village authority, church, jail and other stakeholders
  • Assessment of infrastructure and facilities in rural India and
  • Giving inputs to government at different levels, facilitating partnerships and collaborations between organizations and departments to strengthen menstrual hygiene management response
  • Social media campign to inform, inspire, mobilize support and behaviour change in choices made in relation to MHM
  • Advocacy and positioning menstrual health in the map of global issues

Our trainings and sensitization drives have reached adolescent girls and boys and their teachers in schools, men, visually impaired, physically challenged, hearing impaired adolescent girls and young women and their care givers both in institutions of care and in the community, girls and women in the defense and paramilitary living in cantonments, journalists, nurses and paramedical personnel, jail inmates and their children, government officials from line departments and NGO personnel in the management and training departments. Training materials and sanitary materials like towels and menstrual cups have been distributed to all those who received our trainings. 

These people who have been sensitized have been able to commit to not retrict their learnings to themselves but share it with their family and friends, peers, colleagues and others wherein each person is the starting point of a cascading model of raising awareness in a society.

Now these are all field operations limited to the geography the initiative operates in but to scale it globally the use of technology has been extremely benefically. Documentation of our work also involves technology- pictures have to be taken and that too in remote locations, there is the issue of consent and sensitivity involved, videos to be captured for training and education purpose, data has to be reported/shared/analysed/documented, large documents have to be worked upon in collaboration with multiple persons all requiring some level of skills in technology. Even during training and interactions use of technology only enhances the experience for participants. In place of a chart or a monotonous lecture, a video depicting the reproductive system of girls/women can make everyone alert and interested to pay attention. Use of short videos and films on the subject have also been very effective to drive home the message and keep everyone's attntion and help them retain their learnings. 

While addressing an audience composed of NGO personnel in an African country and during a discussion on best practices of NGOs in India and around the world working on menstrual hygiene, having affinity to using technology helped me to set up my laptop to connect to the LCD in the training room, connect to the wifi available in the premises, have the light and sound moderated and make a presentation of different organizations, persons and their work all in a matter of 30 minutes. If I had not been technologically savvy, my words would have only been a claim without the backing of evidence and also it would have been boring or hard to retain for participants.

I know most organizations are doing all that I just mentioned but in my case, since I possessed affinity to technology, I did not have to rely on another person for the task and saved time and resources by doing it myself. In doing so, I also brought many women to shed their natural intimidation of technology and fear of their devices.

That is the power of use of technology. It equips you with evidence for persuading an audience to believe, understand and retain what they learnt. And technology also enables you to access a large amount of information in little time and without relying on half a dozen people to help you.

The programs and approaches, observations, learnings, successes and also the challenges and barriers can be shared with the global community through the use of social media. As an outcome of this enhanced visibility, local, regional and national media gave our programs wide coverage on newspapers, TV, radio and on the web and women leaders, women led organizations, women journalists extended massive support to Breaking the Silence 2019 programs be it Men Take Lead Ride, Nigeria Outreach or Advocacy and helping in keeping the discussion moving forward.

Breaking the Silence programs were shared with the global community via the largest social network of women, World Pulse. Women on World Pulse have supported and rallied around in their communities taking Breaking the Silence as a successful and replicable model of women's health and empowerment. 

While I write this article for #SheTransformsTech, I am technology enabled to develop the content to present to you from the massive amount of information and data available with me and technology enables women from different corners, even countries we have not located on the map are able to read, reflect and consider it as a viable path of work and impact for themselves.

This bridge of influencing positive action irrespective of the physical distance is made possible by use of technology. I know I have many miles to go and I have only just begun but sharing with others as we walk is a great way of being on this journey. I may have mastered only a fraction of what is there to technology as applicable in my chosen field of work and interest and there is so much more to learn, its fascinating to me to be on this learning curve. Once you begin mastering little things about technology you are open to learning more.

My activism on women's empowerment (please see the pictures and description in the gallery)

I am dedicated to the cause of digital literacy and inclusion of women and building women's voices and women's leadership not only to enhance their access to the world of opportunities and education but also for better protecting themselves, building support groups, sisterhood and safety nets for themselves that come to their help in times of unemployment or poverty, crisis, catastrophe, gender based violence including domestic violence.

I have been a community member on World Pulse for a decade now and have been reading dozens of articles in a week to interact with women who wrote them, understand their challenges and offer them either resource, advice or just an empathetic ear without judgement. Only technology has made it possible for a woman to vent out her suffering and share her happiness on her success on World Pulse and technology that connects us all to console or celebrate her. We have been brought closer only by technology.

I am passionate and involved in fighting against racial discrimination and domestic violence and work closely with many groups inluding women journalists on a voluntary basis.

During the total lockdown that India is living through right now to combact COVID-19, use of technology has made it possible to continue my work in menstrual health while working from home. Though activities cannot be conducted as of now but the exercise of fund raising, planning, strategising, developing training content all are being carried on.

I have been able to give information, hope and positivity to others using digital technology, facilitate material support to those who need it, create awareness on COVID-19 and measures to its prevention, tracing, testing and treatment and facilitate more support to bring about adherence to government directives. 

My journalism, projects in media and publicity coverage (please see the pictures and description in the gallery)

The greatest high for me as a journalist was to be the only woman media person giving coverage to an agri-based festival in a remote rural location and being able to write extensively from the region, take pictures and videos, host a social media promotion and successfully complete my assignment on my own without relying on a large team only because I was equipped in technology. I managed print (newspapers and magazines articles), radio programs, social media promotion and also took about 2000 pictures and 50 video interviews all by myself.

A district in Manipur state in India (Tamenglong) has begun a comprehensive focus on including education on menstrual hygiene in all the district level seminars, meetings and discussions led by the District Hospital and Health Department under the guidance of Dr. Chambo Gonmei following the success of Breaking the Silence trainings and sensitization of stakeholders in Tamenglong.

My article on the need for saving Shirui lily, an endangered flower was adjudged the best article of the year (2019) by Youth Ki Awaaz.

This is the kind of impact I want to make in India and other countries to inspire the government to get involved and though its a herculean task, use of technology can help in expediting it. 

                                                                                                           * * * *

Founder & Director, Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation

Ambassador, Encourager, Vocal Contributor, Voices of Our Future alumni World Pulse

Contributor to The Statesman, World Pulse, Youth Ki Awaaz, The People's Chronicle, The Morning Bell, The Gaanphiu Mail and Aja Daily and

Radio Jockey in Radio active Community Radio 90.4 Mhz

 

 

 

 

This story was submitted in response to Become a Featured Changemaker.

Comments 16

Log in or register to post comments
Jill Langhus
Apr 03
Apr 03

Hello Dear Urmila,

How are you and your family faring, dear? Wow! What an amazing 2019 you had! I mean I knew you had made a big impact and got quite a few accolades, but this is impressive. What are your goals for 2020?

Much continued success to you, dear! Hope you and your family are safe and well.

XX

Urmila Chanam
Apr 03
Apr 03

Dearest sister Jil,
Indeed 2019 was a high output year and 2020 has already begun on a wrong note but the times we are in right now are larger than us or our projects and calls for a deeper reflection and rechartering of our priorities. Thanks a lot for the warm wishes and also for the grant opportunity you shared on social media. You are such an amazing sister and asset to the World Pulse sisterhood. Amen.
Love and prayers from India,
Urmila Chanam

Jill Langhus
Apr 04
Apr 04

Hello dear:-)

Yes! Perhaps it's just a necessary redirection, and an opportunity to focus on other things? I agree that it's larger than us.

You're welcome, dear. I hope it's helpful to you.

Aw, thank you! So are you:-)

Hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well!

XX

otahelp
Apr 03
Apr 03

Hello Urmila, it is really wonderful reading your work in Menstral Health. thank you for this wonderful initiative. wishing you luck in the application

Urmila Chanam
Apr 04
Apr 04

Dear Otahelp,
A big thank you for your warm wishes. Hope to read your stories and submissions too. Have you been able to write for SheTransformTech too?
Much love,
Urmila Chanam

Adanna
Apr 03
Apr 03

Keep up the good work Urmila.

Urmila Chanam
Apr 04
Apr 04

Dear Adanna,
Thanks for the warm wishes, much appreciated. God bless xoxo.
Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam

Lavina Cardoza
Apr 04
Apr 04

You are right Urmila. Access to technology is equal to literacy as it holds the key to knowledge and opportunities. Keep up the good work!

Urmila Chanam
Apr 04
Apr 04

Dearest Lavina,
From how closely I have known you, you are a striking example of a woman who enjoys access to technology and utilises it for the good of the organization and society.

Thank you for reading my submission. It was rather difficult for me to reflect and come up with how often and how much I use technology in my work and personal life but it was important to mention the tiny steps for the benefit of those who may not be using technology, are in two minds of its utility and so on. I hope they will now be sure to take that step.

Loads of love and warm wishes,
Urmila chanam

SeemaKhandale
Apr 04
Apr 04

Greetings,
Urmila, you are always and will be one of my favorite sister.

Urmila Chanam
Apr 04
Apr 04

Dear Seema,
Thanks for the love. I love, love :) :)
Love and hugs,
Urmila Chanam

anita shrestha
Apr 04
Apr 04

Active woman

Urmila Chanam
Apr 04
Apr 04

Dear Anita,
I began my work on menstrual health in 2012-13 and used to have a 9-5 job after which I used to do this work. All my weekends, holidays were utilised to do my work in menstrual health. I am glad atleast now I am doing this full time and do not have to do any other job.
Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam

Hello, sister Urmila,

You are simply amazing! You need to be a consultant (if you are not doing it yet). Thank you for sharing your milestones with us. You embody what unstoppable means. I am hoping for the best on your application, dear sister. I hope you are safe and well. I am not active on social media.

Urmila Chanam
Jul 10
Jul 10

Dearest Karen,
May every woman have good sisters like you, then their life will blossom. Thank you sister. I have been a consultant for 2 years now but the consultancy scenario is rather challenging because continuity of assignments and income are variable. I miss you on Facebook but I know we have World Pulse where I can meet you. Take care and be safe.
Love always
Urmila Chanam

Awww. You're so sweet, dear. Thank you! I can say the same thing about you. You're welcome, love.

That's great to know that you are already a consultant.

I deactivated my FB account, but I'm on WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and sometimes Twitter. Of course, my main activity is on World Pulse.

You're always in my heart. Take care always!

Related Stories

michelleempowererofwomen