This Menstruation Warrior’s Efforts Have Helped More Than 10,000 Women
Snehal Chaudhary is a 24-year-old software engineer from Mumbai, who has made it her life’s mission to eradicate menstrual taboos in India. She is the founder of an NGO called Kshitij Foundation that has helped spread awareness about the myths associated with periods to more than 10,000 women and students across 50 villages.
Snehal is from a village in Maharashtra called Shelu Bazar in the Washim district. Fortunately, her family rubbished inane menstrual myths even before she hit puberty.
Thanks to her family’s progressiveness, the restrictions placed on her were much lesser than what other girls in the village faced.
“I would often wonder why girls were made to sit or eat separately while they were menstruating. Everyone wanted it to be a secret, but this was an obvious way to let the world know that they were on their periods,” says Snehal.
But none of the practices in the village offended or affected Snehal very much. It was only when she moved to Nagpur for her higher studies, did she feel the wrath of ridiculous taboos.
“I was under a lot of pressure in school, so I started going to an orphanage for some peace of mind,” she says. Snehal would spend most of her free time in the shelter and the kids eventually became especially close to her.
Snehal recalls an incident when she received a call from the orphanage to help with a worrying situation.
When she reached there, she found a 13-year-old girl locked in her room, refusing to open the door for anyone. But when the girl knew it was Snehal who was outside, she came out of her room.
“The girl came out crying and immediately hugged me. I had no idea what was happening. She hesitated initially but told me she might have blood cancer. The truth was she was just too embarrassed to tell me she was bleeding. I was shocked. This was when I realised how emotionally damaging menstrual taboos were,” says Snehal.
Completely shook, Snehal decided to learn more about the issue and even consulted a gynaecologist to do so.
After this, she started conducting awareness sessions at the orphanage.
While studying software engineering from Yavatmal, Snehal continued to spend her weekends going far and wide to shed light on the absurdities of such tales in schools and colleges.
“From my experience in the orphanage, I felt like because those kids don’t have parents, no one tells them about periods, but when I visited schools, I came to know that there is very little awareness about this issue in typical households even in the cities too,” says Snehal.
In college, she asked her friends to join her and slowly they went to schools, colleges and workplaces to do the good work of fighting dangerous period folklore.
“Initially no one wanted to join us as it was supposed to be a shameful issue. It was my friend Shweta who joined me first and then slowly through social networking, we managed to have one representative in each state of India,” Snehal tells us proudly.
After finishing her Engineering, Snehal joined as Project Head of Women and Child Development at Wockhardt Foundation in Mumbai. She also started Kshitij Foundation with a group of motivated youngsters.
The team focused on women’s health issues, and menstrual hygiene during adolescence by arranging medical camps etc.
However, the journey was not easy. People would not talk about menstruation openly. Teachers at the village schools would avoid them after knowing that they are going to talk about periods. Villagers opposed talks on breaking such taboos. Some friends and relatives even went to the extent of even advising Snehal’s parents to get her to stop talking about these issues.
“People told my parents no one would marry me if they found out I spoke about menstruation so widely. Curious, I asked my parents if they thought I was shaming the family. Their answer was, ‘No’ and since then, they have fully supported me in my campaigns,” she says.
Snehal started a campaign on social media on 27th May, World Menstrual Hygiene day this year called #BleedTheSilence and urged people to share the stories of their first period or the difficulties surrounding the topic.
“We started collecting articles, paintings, poems, stories of first periods, myths,taboos, etc on menstruation from various regions.And I am happy to inform that we collected 100+ articles not only from India but also from countries like France, Germany,Thailand etc.We got stories from tribal areas of Melghat, Gadchiroli and other, rural areas, urban slums, stories from husbands, brothers, fathers, stories from pharmacists regarding experience while selling pads and then stories from dancers, boxers, waste pickers, etc. People started sending support pictures by holding the banners.Not only women but also boys and men initiated the campaign,” she says.
A boxer, Vinita Ugaonkar wrote how the campaign helped her come out of her shame that she was dealing with since years.
“You have to fight through bad days to earn best days in your life. Everyone has to go through few important moments in their life which stays with them forever, some are beautiful but some are as dark as coal to you. After I won a tough match once, I realized something weird no one congratulated me neither my coach nor someone from team. All eyes just stared at me and all I heard was gossip. My friend came running from audience and she seemed nervous she said you have red stains on your pants, I was completely nervous I try to check myself and tears rolled down my eyes I started running towards washroom. I cleaned myself and left but I realised all eyes stared at me with disgust till I left the stadium. It made me feel awkward , guilty and I started feeling disgusting about self. Those evil laughs followed me with disgusting talks and turned into nightmares and made my nights restless. I tried to hurt myself because it was difficult to deal all those stares and sarcastic comments. So I decided to stop playing boxing because jokes never stopped even few days post tournament,” wrote Vinita who started playing again with the support of her family and friends.
People started recognising Snehal as one of the warriors of the fight against menstrual taboos, and Khitij foundation was invited to many places to raise the awareness. The team was invited to the Maharashtra Police Academy while they were training a batch of 700 lady police constables. The session was a huge success as the lady constables openly talked about how it is hard to change during long working hours or deal with period pain in extreme conditions. This was an eye-opener for their male colleagues, who realised they need to help them with work during such times
.Snehal and her team is breaking one taboo at a time. Snehal claims that with the help of social media, now team Kshitij has a representative in each state of the country educating more than 10,000 students and women.
Talking about her biggest achievement so far, she says she was invited to speak to a village in Solapur about menstruation, the venue for which was a temple!
“The biggest taboo that Indians believe is that one must not visit a temple while menstruating. Talking about this issue standing in a temple felt like I was slowly breaking that taboo,” says Snehal.
Ask her about her plans for her NGO and she gives me a shocking answer,” I wish the NGO is closed in the future. This will mean that every person in our country is aware of menstruation. If this generation is acutely aware of it, then the next generation won’t even require an awareness drive. Only when a mother teaches her daughter that menstruating is not impure or dirty but a physiological necessity to birth children, then each girl will feel empowered,” says Snehal.