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Breaking the Silence – Let’s Celebrate the Red Droplets

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‘Let’s celebrate the red droplets’ outlines the campaign “Breaking the Silence” that Urmila Chanam is single handedly spearheading . Her work on menstrual hygiene began a little over two years ago with extensive research on the taboos, stigma and myths that surround menstruation in the Indian society. Urmila is a social development professional on HIV/AIDS and public health, a menstrual hygiene activist and journalist/columnist. It’s inspiring to see her balance a full time job alongside her campaign as an activist. In her endeavor to reach out to as many people as possible to dispel myths surrounding menstruation, she has focused to design and develop the campaign which ran in the month of May 2014 precipitating to the observation of the first International Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th, 2014. Her campaign was nothing short of an innovation as it used social media as the message propagation forum. Facebook was buzzing with campaign activities that ranged from running a helpline that answered to queries related to menstruation, interviews of eminent professionals and representatives of organizations working on menstrual hygiene in India or in other countries. She also hosted a quiz for the guys called the ‘guy test’ besides carrying video messages from strong and powerful women from different fields and different countries. Jensine Larsen, the Founder of World Pulse and International Journalist from USA wrote,’ Breaking the silence and shame and celebrating the sacred life-giving menstrual cycles of women’s bodies is a major step towards realizing the full potential of humanity. Join Urmila Chanam in her revolutionary life-giving campaign to bring awareness, education, health and body confidence to young girls and women everywhere.’

The message is one. The message is clear. “Menstrual blood is not impure. This is what give you power to give birth. Look after your power. Look after your menstruation. Let’s together celebrate the red droplets”, a simple yet powerful video message on Facebook to her supporters of Breaking the Silence Campaign.

Breaking the Silence Campaign:  Breaking the Silence is about doing away with the myth surrounding women’s menstruation and about menstrual hygiene management. Talking about menstruation is difficult and of discomfort to lot of us. She tries to break the discomfort by educating people about menstruation and management of menstrual hygiene. The larger aim of breaking the silence campaign is to bust myths and taboos related to menstruation. Certainly, a public health issue, there’s a need to identify areas where menstrual hygiene management becomes a challenge where basic sanitation is unachievable. She used the platform of Facebook to launch the campaign because she wanted to have a wider and effective reach. Most women she knew extended their support to her campaign to enable her to take her campaign further. She said, “I love all the women who are united by the desire to make lives better for us.”

Supporters of the campaign: 28thMay is marked as International Menstrual Hygiene Day. Messages poured in from activists, actresses, officials of Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Zephaniah Free Education Academy, World Pulse and WASH.

Breaking the Taboo: She trains young girls and women personally using different platforms of communication such as school trainings, Women Self Help Group trainings, village council/ Panchayat organized village trainings, Community Affinity Group trainings. She also conducts Skype training of girls and women. The reason that girls dropout of schools is because there’s no education about menstruation and the myths and taboos impact her livelihood, education and her safety.

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Breaking the Silence ‘Guy Test’:An online test called the ‘Guy Test’ was conducted on Facebook. Six Questions such as, what is menstruation, how many times does a girl menstruate, what does a girl do with the flow, what brands of sanitary pads have you heard about, what does your mom, sister, wife, fiancé, girlfriend, classmate use and what is the biological purpose of menstruation among women and girls were posted on her profile. It was a huge success. She gave out certificates to those men who answered correctly and were thus known as the ambassador of Breaking the Silence campaign. The youngest ambassador of the campaign is 13 year old Madhav Chaturvedi. She felt that there are no workshop that educate men about menstruation. They would be supportive when they are educated, according to her.

Other works: She received the Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity in 2013 for her work on menstrual hygiene. Urmila is also a journalist and has been a fellow of The Great WASH Yatra (Nirmal Bharat Yatra). She writes regular columns at The Sangai Express. She contributes regularly to The WIP, SUN Magazine, Chilli Breeze, Global Press Institute, and journals of World Pulse and Voices for Human Rights. 

Indira Akoijam freelances with Manipur Times and is currently working with a media research house in New Delhi. For feedback write to [email protected] 

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