Menstrual Health and Hygiene: Creating Awareness and Cultural Sensitivity

Date: 2-3 March 2020

Venue: Seminar Hall - I, School of Social Sciences & International Studies, Silver Jubilee Campus, Pondicherry University

As a collaborative effort, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture (SAFIC) and the Center of Women Studies, Pondicherry University organized a two day workshop on ‘Menstrual Health and Hygiene – Creating Awareness and Cultural Sensitivity’. This was a first step towards taking forward the course on the above topic designed by SAFIC and approved to be offered by the Center for Women Studies, Pondicherry University as a soft course.

The  program was inaugurated on 2nd March 2020 with Prof. K. Moorthy, Dean, School of Social Sciences & International Studies, PU as the Chairperson , and Dr. Uttareswar Pachegaonkar, Director, Sri Aurobindo Center for Homeopathy, Sri Aurobindo Society as the guest of honor to address the seminar. Dr.  C Aruna Head (i/c) Centre for Women’s Studies, PU, began the workshop with her welcome address. This was followed by an introduction to the workshop by Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, SAFIC who explained about the need and the scope of such topic in the present time. He said SAFIC has been working in this field for past one and half years and has been running awareness program on Menstrual health in various schools of Pondicherry. He mentioned it’s important that all misconceptions, taboos, misunderstandings and blind beliefs connected with menstruation must be addressed and a healthy awareness must be created among the young and old ones for cultivating a greater cultural sensitivity and menstrual health and hygiene practices. Dr. Uttareswar Panchegaonkar in his special address spoke about the menstrual health care that one has to take from the point of view of medical science. Prof. K Murthy ji in his presidential address highlighted the need for conducting such workshops and encouraged all participants to actively take part in the workshop and learn as much as they could. The inaugural session ended with the vote of thanks by Dr. Ashita of Center for Women Studies, PU.

The first technical session  of the workshop began with Dr. Sampadananda Mishra’s interactive session on ‘A deeper cultural and psychological understanding of menstruation’. Dr. Mishra started with a few questions related to the cultural taboos, religious beliefs connected with menstruation and then explained about the deeper psychological dimension of the menstruation highlighting ancient Indian insights. He also dealt with the man and woman relationship, the feminine principles, some misconceptions and misunderstanding about the menstruation. As for the social aspects, Dr. Mishra explained how culturally menstruation is viewed as sacred and explained how The Mother said that women should engage is normal activity as far as was possible for each individual.  In earlier times, we had a system where women where made to rest during the time of menstruation and they did not carry out their normal tasks.  This gave them the space and time off from their schedule to focus on things that were important to them.  This system also provided for a in-built health check, as a few participants spoke about how their mother / sister / wife had menstruation related problems but felt too constrained to tell their families about it.  While this system now attaches the stigma of impurity to menstruation, we now are seeing alternative coming into existence.  There are companies which offer paid leave for women on the days of their menstrual cycle and the red tent temple movement provides safe spaces for women to share their experiences of womanhood could be a possible answer to provide emotional support.

This was followed by panel discussion on “Modern Red Tent Movement” moderated by Dr. C Aruna with Dr. R. Nalini,  Dept. of Social Work, Dr. S. Haripriya,  Dept. of Food Science & Technology, Dr. E. Sreekala, School of Education of Pondicherry University. The participants witnessed an intense session on various aspects related to the Red Tent Movement. While Dr. Haripriya dealt with the food and nutrtion aspect, Dr. Nalini dealt with the socio-cultural aspects and Dr. Sreekala dealt with the present situation and highlighted that right education with regard to menstruation is the need of the time. She also spoke on the relevance of a space for woman going through difficult times, be it the menstruation period or pre-menopause or just any other situation. It can be space for open talk, sharing, companionship and support from fellow beings. Here is the relevance of the the Red Tent. This should be space where one talks about menstruation, health and hygiene irrespective of caste, creed, religion or any other limiting factors. She also mentioned about the environment friendly practices during menstruation which could be modified and adopted for comfort and health. 

After the lunch break Dr. Kalyani, a resource person of SAFIC from Rajapalayam, spoke on the Power of Womanhood. By illustrating few real life examples she explained how one can even use mensuration as a power of womanhood.

The last session of the first day was a very useful session conducted by Dr. Arati Sharma and Dr. Uttareswar Pachegaonkar, Directors, SACH, on Maintaining healthy lifestyle and dealing with menstrual irregularities. Dr. Arati Sharma explained the details of the menstruation process purely from the point of view of medical science, This included both physical and psychological issues connected with menstruation. Dr. Pachegaonkar dealt in detail about the daily healthy practices to prevent many health issues. This included how to manage daily activities like taking food, drinking water, having proper sleep etc. While Dr. Arati Sharma explained the biological aspects of menstruation and the related changes in the body, Dr. Uttareshwar Pachegaonkar gave us pointers on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The second day started with an interaction with the participating students who shared their views on the first day sessions. Most of the students appreciated the sessions by Dr. Arati Sharma and Dr. Pachegaonkar as helped them getting many practical tips for living healthy life and how to manage health issues connected with menstruation. They also shared that Dr. Sampadananda Mishra’s thoughts helped them understanding the deeper psychological and cultural issues connected with menstruation. The panel discussion had a good impact on them with regard to the current understanding of the menstruation issues. Dr. Kalyani’s session  helped them understanding the power of a woman.

The next session was more of an informal session facilitated by Dr. Prabjoth Kulkarni ji, a well-known educationist who, through simple activities created an awareness about leading a conscious life for a future humanity. The participants were asked to write down and share their thoughts and ideas after meditating on themselves. She also highlighted the purpose of life and how to organize life’s activities in order to live a conscious life. Dr. Kulkarni’s session explored methods of introspection and finding a greater degree of mental well-being.  It would be wonderful if we used these tools while interacting with the larger communities as we would then interact from a space of honesty, integrity and harmony.  

After a short break for tea the next session was conducted by Ranjana Swain, the Yoga Instructor at SAFIC on cleansing practices for body and mind through Yoga. She taught the participants various Yogasanas which would help preventing many physical issues during menstruation. This included yogic breathings like  bhramari, shitali, anuloma-viloma; yogic postures like gomukhasana, dhanurasana, sarvangasana, pavanamuktasana, setubndhasana, sahshankasana etc. Participants said, Ranjana’s session on how to manage and discomfort during the menstrual cycle through yogasanas and pranayama was very helpful.

The post lunch session conducted by Dr. Kalyani was a practical demonstration of using sustainable menstrual hygiene products. This included use of menstrual cup and various organic pads. The pros and cons and proper use of such products were discussed. The session turned out to be informative and was very participative. 

The last session of the workshop was facilitated by Dr. Aashita, Center for Women Studies. This session was the state of menstrual health in India: Myths and Misconceptions. She wonderfully presented many myths and misconceptions connected with menstrual health in India. The session was interactive and there were question and answer session at the end of the session.

The valedictory session was presided over by Prof. K. Moorthy, Dean, School of Social Sciences & International Studies, PU. The session began with a summary of the two day workshop by Deepa Vaitheeswaran, a resource person at SAFIC. Giving her remark Deepa Vaitheeswaran said: It is odd that such a common occurrence as menstruation that takes place in about half the population of the world for around half their lives, is still considered a taboo subject to discuss.  It is for each one of us to speak about this with openness and understanding to the communities we reach out to.  It will also be helpful to keep in mind that while we look for equality for women, equality should not be measured as sameness to the masculine gender.  Women are different to men and their equality lies in understanding this and not making this a limiting thought. Prof. Moorthy in his presidential remark appreciated the collaboration of SAFIC and the Center for Woman Studies in organizing this topic. He also wished that the students go with a positive note learning many useful and practical lessons from the workshop. Participation certificates were distributed to the participants who represented various departments of Pondicherry university, Tagore Arts College, and few NGOs in Pondicherry. The vote of thanks was given by Dr. C Aruna.

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