Border village getting hope

Sakhi Project, with the support of Indian Army, reaches out to the women of Machil Sector to provide livelihood and improve menstrual health
"As in many parts of the world, women, especially of the nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal community in Kashmir Valley have their own beliefs and taboos when it comes to menstruation."
"As in many parts of the world, women, especially of the nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal community in Kashmir Valley have their own beliefs and taboos when it comes to menstruation."Special arrangement

BY SWATI BEDEKAR

For Naseema, resident of far off Dudi, a border village in Kupwara District, Jammu and Kashmir, adolescence is not always pleasant. There were days every month when she was ordered to stop certain activities she loved and told not to eat or drink certain items.

Sitting in the courtyard of her one-storey house, playing with her four-year-old daughter, pangs of pain hit her again. Naseema has been menstruating for the last two days.

She knows it is time to change the cloth she has been using to stem the flow of blood. She goes up to the rooftop and gets another cloth – part of an old blue scarf – and positions it in her underwear.

As in many parts of the world, women, especially of the nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal community in Kashmir Valley have their own beliefs and taboos when it comes to menstruation.

These range from very common ones, like not touching kitchen utensils or taking a bath, to ones that are quite unheard of elsewhere, such as not looking into a mirror. Young girls are coping up with this situation and yet want to go to school. Even if they have to walk a few miles to reach there.

Sakhi - a project by Vatsalya Foundation with support from Indian Army units in Macchal Sector, Kupwara, District, aimed at breaking the stigmas that can bar women and girls who menstruate from education, work and society in the border villages.

This project is aimed at all those girls in the Valley who suffer from period poverty like 50 million other girls. As part of this novel initiative about 10 women menstrual health awareness interactions in a few days, including a meeting at the village panchayat and engagement with girl students of Class 9th to 12th of government schools was undertaken.

There was a very good response from the women of both age groups in the discussions regarding menstrual period, problems, solutions and setting up and running a sanitary napkin making unit to earn livelihood too.

Their doubts were whether sanitary napkin making can be a money making business? Where to sell finished goods? Is the income from this job enough to get financial stability? Many questions like this were raised.

Every year after November till March most of the village people go to stay at Kupwara during the snow season. Young men, women, girls, all need work. The women saw a small hope that since this work could be done indoors it may be an opportunity to stay in the village and work.

The pleasant experience in the awareness program with the girls in the school was the open and happy mentality of the girls! There is not much contact of these with the outside world especially as there is no mobile network here.

The atmosphere of openness and modern thinking can be seen even in the presence of a male teacher. Girls said this was a rare opportunity to seek answers to their queries on menstrual problems. So they left the shyness, and dared to ask questions.

We appreciated the girls who insisted that male teachers and chaperons leaving the room so they could talk without inhibitions. So much clarity of thoughts is certainly admirable.

Perhaps urban girls may not do this! The response of the girls to this session was gratifying. Before we left the school, seven-eight girls persuaded the headmaster and insisted on meeting us separately and talking to us in confidentially to solve their common physical problems.

This was a realisation how important it is to have at least one female teacher in every secondary school. Discussions with the principals revealed that availability of female teachers is very low in all the schools in this area. The education department needs to look into this.

In the program held in the panchayat offices with older women and young women, it was noticed that all of them speak quite freely on this issue.

However, due to inadequate medical facilities and poorly trained manpower, there was a lack of adequate medical facilities and information about their problems. May be because of this reason many girls have a strong desire to study nursing.

Vatsalya Foundation with support from Indian Army units in Macchal Sector installed sanitary pad vending machines and incinerators (a furnace for burning waste) in the schools in this region.

Sanitary napkins made in the Sakhi project will be used by the schoolgirls in these schools. The women of the area will make a livelihood as per the daily production.

This project will promote menstrual health awareness and hygiene in the region as well. This faculty will be extended with time. We asked Naseema what she felt about this initiative.

She is not only happy but believes that thanks to such awareness campaigns, things will change: “It will take time, maybe years or even decades. But there is hope for her daughter now to pursue education and have a career.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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