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Role of men in MHM

Not just ‘WoMen’ talk: Period ‘Hush! He is here!’ is a phrase often used by a group of women discussing about menstruation, whenever a man walks in. Either the topic is changed or the term ‘period’ is not used. This is something that needs to be changed. In view of various taboos and myths associated with ‘men and menstruation’ FINISH society organised a virtual roundtable on the topic ‘Role of men in Menstrual Health Management (MHM)’ in July with speakers drawn from various fields who discussed the importance of involving men in period talk and its effect on society for better. During a recent lecture with university students in a tier 1 city, it was shocking to learn that not more than 5 per cent male students had the foggiest idea regarding monthly periods. They insensitively remarked that it is a woman’s problem and men including brothers or fathers have no role to play in it. Most of them were not aware about how long the menstrual cycle lasts and how much pain their sisters or mothers undergo. It never crossed their minds to help them during these difficult 5-7 days. According to a Water Aid study in Uttar Pradesh, one of the underlying reasons why menstrual hygiene has been neglected is gender inequality. Unequal power relations between men and women result in women’s and girls’ voices not being heard in decision-making within households, communities, and development programmes. They have also led to cultural taboos, stigma, and shame around menstruation (house et al., 2012), including the belief, prevalent in many cultures, that menstrual blood, and menstruating women themselves, are impure (Wateraid, 2009). During menstruation, women and girls may be excluded from using water and sanitation facilities, are unable to participate fully in social, educational, productive, and religious activities and, in some cultures, are even excluded from the home (house et al., 2012). With our Media Advisor Chander Mahadev hosting the webinar and our Training Head Shiv Kumar Sharma giving the introductory speech, it was indeed a good way to begin the ‘Role of men in MHM.’ Shiv talked about how menstruation has been a reality since the advent of human kind, when human beings didn’t have clothes to drape their bodies. MHM has been a reality since times immemorial. For giving birth to a new life, menstruation is a must. In ancient times, there were no proper tools to effectively manage the menstrual cycle. In order to ensure that no drop of blood falls in the home, the menfolk gave five to seven days of rest to their wives and daughters because they had to undergo acute physical discomfort like pain in the abdomen, body ache and headache. The idea was to ostensibly give them free time so that they recuperate and become normal. Nowadays this old time-tested custom has turned into a social malaise. In many societies, women are ostracized during the menstrual cycle. Ironically, these rules only apply to women who are part of a household. This restriction is not implemented on women working in public places including domestic helps, which shows the double standards of our society. We must not forget that issues related to child marriage and sati pratha were raised majorly by men and abolished later which shows that men are instrumental in bringing about change. During MHM training men should be actively involved in breaking this taboo. There needs to be meetings with parents to treat this issue as a normal activity. There is a crying need for men to be active partners in this exercise. On the occasion of Raksha Bandhan when sisters tie rakhi on their brothers’ hands, brothers should gift them sanitary pads. Our first speaker Dr Ruchita Sujai Chowdhary, Assistant Professor, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Language University, Lucknow highlighted the positive aspects or practices and perception of people regarding the same in the society like celebration of girl’s first menstruation in different parts of country and their regional names like Rajkishori, Rajutsav and so on. She also spoke about some taboos related to the same like in certain places where women are said to practice witchcraft if the bury their sanitary waste. Our second speaker Ms Anjana Goswami (Senior Programme Manager, Equal Community Foundation) touched upon the innovations that can be introduced and practiced by civil society organisations. She shared examples from ECF programmes of men/boys breaking taboos. She added some wonderful success stories of young boys taking up the part to educate people about MHM in their villages and inspiring other boys of the same age group to do so. Our third speaker Dr Neelam Singh, Secretary, Chief Functionary, Vatsalya (MBBS, MD), spoke about CSR playing a critical role in breaking taboos and creating awareness like pink/dignity room concept in every secondary school with the availability of sanitary napkins, toilet papers, soap, facility to take rest, water, and so on along with prospective innovative ideas like pad bank in schools. The next speaker Ms. Charlotte Mong’ina (GESI lead FINISH Mondial, Kenya) spoke about international practices and taboos around MHM citing experiences from Kenya (Africa). Dr Sanjay Johri (Director, Amity School of Communication) spoke about the role an educational institution especially the one that deals with Mass Communications like Amity has to play to build awareness in involving men in MHM. Ms Shailvee Sharda (Special Correspondent at Times of India) gave a journalistic perspective on the role of men in MHM by asking some ‘need of the hour’ questions that need to be answered. The ball has been set rolling and we hope more and more men get involved in the MHM movement.