Break The Silence: Addressing period poverty in Nagaland

UN Women’s campaign material on ending the stigma around menstruation on Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28. Stigma, silence and misinformation around menstruation are rampant in Nagaland and they contribute highly to the period poverty narrative, say activists. (UN Women Infographic)
UN Women’s campaign material on ending the stigma around menstruation on Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28. Stigma, silence and misinformation around menstruation are rampant in Nagaland and they contribute highly to the period poverty narrative, say activists. (UN Women Infographic)

Veroli Zhimo
Dimapur | August 10

“With the ongoing pandemic and little to no sale, I recently found out that my wife has stopped buying sanitary pads just so our family doesn’t go to sleep with an empty stomach.”

This is the story of a fruit vendor from Dimapur’s Dhobinala area, as told to Serendip Guardians, who are part of a mission to alleviate period poverty among 7000 women in Nagaland for three months.

Period poverty is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and waste management that affects women and girls all over the world. 

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns which hampered access to menstrual products, in the month of June this year, a project was started with the need to address period poverty among returnees in quarantine centres across the state.

Crowd-funded campaign
The project,  taken up by three organisations— Serendip Guardians, Humans of Nagaland and Our Young Voices— gradually moved towards adolescents from poor education and financial backgrounds, women vendors to other marginalised menstruators in the state. 

The team started out by asking 100 women how much they spend on sanitary products per month. The amounts ranged from Rs 50 to Rs 700, with the average amount being Rs 200. This excludes other necessities like painkillers, hot water bags, panty liners, etc. With this estimate, the team launched a crowd-funding campaign and raised close to Rs 2 lakh - 60% through funding and 40% through local donors.

So far, the team has reached out to approximately 1700 women across six districts - Dimapur, Kohima, Peren, Wokha, Tuensang and Kiphire - with the support of various district partners. The team will also be reaching out to all districts but as of now, transportation has been an issue with various lockdowns in place.

Over the course of the campaign, however, the team has widened the scope from distribution of sanitary products to creating conversations around the health issues related to period and period science.

‘Taboo topic’
“When addressing period poverty, we are conscious that we are not only working to provide sanitary products. Rather, we are also pursuing to discuss lack of menstrual dialogue and knowledge,” co-founder and director of Serendip Guardians, Rini Ghose, told The Morung Express. 

“Stigma, silence and misinformation around menstruation are rampant in Nagaland and they contribute highly to the period poverty narrative,” she added.

Ghose narrated an incident during an event in Dimapur wherein a male participant narrated how his friend, who began menstruating for the first time, came to him crying because “she thought she was going to die.”

“However bizarre one may find such stories, it is cyclic and it will continue as long as period poverty exists,” she viewed.

Normalise conversations: Period.
Ghose put across the need to break the silence and normalise discussions around menstrual health so that young girls are fully aware and are comfortable enough to discuss their needs by the time they reach puberty.

 “Men, boys, women and girls alike should be educated on the same,” she added.

Sharing insights from the campaign, the team also pointed out at the wide gap in the variety of options for sanitary products available in the market.

 With the most commonly used products in Nagaland being disposable pads or clothes, Ghose put across the need to make other sanitary products options like tampons, menstrual cups, etc, accessible and affordable.

“Another thing we have learnt is how menstruators in certain rural areas of the state have very successfully resorted to cloth for sanitation. We learnt of this in one of our attempts to distribute products in the area,” Ghose said.

The period narrative, therefore, is not a one way discussion, she added, while suggesting that varied perspectives, especially from the rural areas, can be used to bring a Naga period narrative to the table.

While campaign continues, the urgent need to normalise conversations around the very natural biological process of menstruation can be explained through the experiences of a young student from Pfütsero town in Phek district. 

Coming from a small town, she spoke about not having “the luxury to choose from the best brands of sanitary pads,” and having to buy cheap pads that would often result in rashes.

 “The struggle to muster up my courage just to get a packet of sanitary pads from the shop is also real; I would wait until all the customers leave the shop, only to ask the shopkeeper in the most quiet and barely audible voice,” she added—an indication that her right to manage periods without shame or stigma is yet to be realised.
 

Serendip Guardians is a Dimapur based organisation that works for mental health with primary focus on psychological well-being and developing resilience among individuals.


Our Young Voices is a youth-led community that works towards steering change while seeking to highlight and elicit dialogues on issues that, otherwise, go behind closed doors.


Humans of Nagaland is a story-telling project that revolves around real conversations with strangers as way to promote empathy and values of humanity.