An Inspiring Young Activist: Promoting Menstrual Hygiene in India

Ujaas creates a positive and sustainable impact in the menstrual health landscape in India by reducing period poverty and by empowering adolescent girls and women to adopt effective menstrual health and hygiene management practices.

Honouring the 10th of December— World Human Rights Day, the young activist Advaitesha Birla, launched Ujaas– a social endeavour that fosters young women and future generations with a change-centric dedicated to creating awareness about menstrual hygiene and management among adolescent girls and women especially in rural India.

Youth Time speaks to Birla about this new initiative of Aditya Birla Education Trust, and how it drives positive change for young women in the country.

 This interview brings to you the inspiring journey of Birla and the wonderful initiative Ujaas, which means ‘light’, and represents a heartfelt initiative that is endeavouring to show the way forward. 

Ujaas creates a positive and sustainable impact in the menstrual health landscape in India by reducing period poverty and by empowering adolescent girls and women to adopt effective menstrual health and hygiene management practices. 

Ujaas rural field work 2
Ujaas rural field work

Among other things, through this piece, you will better understand the relation between menstrual hygiene and human rights. 

At Ujaas, they believe that change starts from within and you will see how amazingly this is achieved by hearing from Birla. This path becomes even more uplifting when we recall that 45% of girls in India consider menstruation as abnormal. 

Changing the Attitude Towards Menstruations

 She says the time has come for us to step out of the dark ages in regards to menstrual hygiene. 

“The newest vertical of Aditya Birla Education Trust, Ujaas is aiming to prioritize menstrual health and hygiene management as a key focus area. By providing sustainable interventions to reduce period poverty, we are attempting to empower adolescent girls and women so that they may achieve their full potential and impact society positively.”, she briefs us.

By giving them confidence, breaking taboos and encouraging open conversations, Birla, elaborates they are trying to ensure that young girls can continue to go to school and articulate their needs more openly at home as well. 

Ujaas rural field work
Ujaas rural field work

“Women should not be period-shamed or feel embarrassed because of a human process that is so normal and natural – a process that gives life. Our attitude towards menstruation needs to change drastically today so that future generations can live in a world where period poverty does not even exist.”

 And to achieve this, we need to create awareness about menstrual health among not only women and young girls, but also within communities and society at large. 

“Promoting menstrual hygiene across India is not just a project for us at Ujaas but we consider it a ‘Movement’ that needs the participation of society at every level.”

Awareness Raising and Fieldwork

Since Ujaas aims to create awareness about menstrual health and management, dispel the stigmas associated with it, and provide access to affordable sanitary products and basic hygiene facilities to women, she sheds light on how this will all be achieved.

“We primarily work with grassroots level organizations who have a direct connection with our beneficiaries. We provide these organizations with a holistic program through the three main verticals of Ujaas: Awareness, Distribution and Sustainability.”

Ujaas rural field work 10
Ujaas rural field work

To create awareness, they conduct workshops with adolescent girls and women in rural areas to give them a platform to receive accurate and necessary information about menstruation and hygiene. 

“Through various activities, interactive games and instructive sessions, we deliver age-appropriate learning to our beneficiaries, covering an array of important topics ranging from the biological importance of menstruation to medical facts about it and dispelling the myths, taboos and stigmas surrounding it.”

The distribution vertical works towards providing sanitary napkins pro bono to the beneficiaries, so that they have access to safe menstrual absorbents and do not have to resort to other unhygienic and unsafe alternatives. 

“So far, we have distributed over 1,50,000 sanitary napkins since inception in a span of six months to women who have no access to them otherwise. Our Sustainability plans are currently in the pipeline, but will be functional very soon.”

 They are also working towards identifying and employing sustainable interventions such as self-help groups. 

“For this, we are tapping into the vast potential of communities and training beneficiaries so that they can become torch bearers of our Movement. What sets us apart is that unlike many other organisations, we do not and won’t stop after a one-time intervention.”

 Birla and her team are passionate about delivering a holistic and long-term solution to communities and making their beneficiaries self-sufficient as far as menstrual hygiene is concerned.

Menstrual Health and Hygiene is a Human Right Issue 

Birla highlights that menstrual hygiene is as much about basic human dignity, as it is about health and physical well-being. 

“It is disheartening to know that so many women in our country do not get accorded this basic human dignity. Think of all those women who have never had access to sanitary products.”

She asks us to think of all the adolescent girls who are afraid of their periods and held back in every aspect of life due to that fear. 

“Think of all the deep-rooted myths and misconceptions that make menstruation a taboo topic even in this modern day.”, she adds. 

Advaitesha Birla 1
Advaitesha Birla 1

“Menstrual health and hygiene is about the Right to Health. It is about the Right to Water and Sanitation. It is about the Right to Education. It is about the Right to Work. It is about the Right to Non-Discrimination and Gender Equality.”, she points out. 

In her opinion, ensuring menstrual hygiene can actually promote gender equality and empower women in all aspects of their lives.

 

“I truly believe that a woman must never be afraid or ashamed of her periods. Period! And that has everything to do with everything that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands for.”

 

Picture: Shutterstock / 1199597551, and from the archive of Advaitesha Birla


This is not the only encouraging initiative at Aditya Birla Education Trust- in January 2021 we spoke to Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Education Trust discussing the COVID-19 pandemic from a different angle.

Starting 2021 Right: Mental Health Advice from Neerja Birla


 

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