In Sharana, as an organization we have never claimed to be able to do it all on our own; we are proud to partner with like-minded collaborators and partners in our journey to make a difference where work is needed to be done. In fact, we know that to move forward and for truly lasting change, collaboration and shared skill are the way forward.
Keeping this philosophy in mind, we got in touch with Ecofemme, an Auroville-based organization for creating awareness on menstrual cycle literacy and promoting the use of cloth pads through informed choice to adolescent girls and women. The truth is that girls menstruate for at least 30 years of their lives, and most often know very little about what is happening in their bodies. Also that we exist and are born because of the magic of the monthly Menstruation process, then why the “hush-hush” about such a normal part of our human life.
The Ecofemme website states: “ Menstruation is a rich, multi-faceted experience that has social, cultural, economic, environmental, health, and gender dimensions.” Eco Femme’s programs and educational training modules have evolved in response to our growing understanding of the holistic nature of this experience along with the development of the menstrual health ecosystem in India and across the world.
Their programs range from direct education on the basics of menstruation with adolescent girls and marginalized women right through to training facilitators and supporting educational ambassadors to take a stand for sustainable menstruation on behalf of the earth. They work with a growing network of grassroots NGO partners and educational ambassadors across India.
Since 2013 they have been partnering with government schools in Tamil Nadu and organizations across India to bring the Pad for Pad program to girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Since Sharana is working with hundreds of adolescents through our various programs and is a well-established and respected organization in Puducherry, Ecofemme has also opened up this program to our organization.
We are beginning to collaborate with them first through the Pad for Pad program. They started “Pad for Pad because we saw that many women and girls in the area of Tamil Nadu have a lot of unanswered questions about their bodies and the menstrual cycle, mostly because menstruation is a topic not openly talked about. This observed need for safe learning spaces and the growing challenge of dealing with sanitary waste across India inspired us to replace silence with conversation and action.
We are proud to have initiated our collaboration earlier this month; and Ecofemme’s founder Kathy has been a real sport throughout the last few weeks, as we put this into place step by step, together. It has begun with a ToT module where Harishini, a trainer and facilitator from team Ecofemme came into Sharana and trained 5 of our staff(4 social workers and 1 health worker) to be able to conduct menstrual health sessions with adolescent girls and eventually women as well. This has equipped our team to be able to deliver a 3-hour standardized menstrual health educational session with adolescent girls under their pad for pad program.
As part of the initial training, Harishini worked alone with the team for half a day, this was followed by training through observation and discussions held post two 1.5 hours menstrual health education session that was held with 20+ adolescent girls at Sharana earlier this month.
Goes without saying that the girls’ session was spell-binding; being able to normalize speaking about our period, even simply going around the circle each one sharing how we got our first period, how much we knew of what was happening then, whom we told first, how we felt, what product we used, and what we wish we knew at that point- these questions brought us closer together than was imaginable in 3 hours.
Being able to allow girls to trust enough to share and to listen about this sensitive topic seems to us like a huge victory and the beginning of a much-cherished partnership. The girls left with some questions answered and other queries building up; they were going to go home and share what they had learnt today with other girls and women of menstruating age- let the conversation begin!
Apart from this Pad for Pad program, we also plan to collaborate for a program regarding Women in the coming months, watch out!
Read more about Ecofemme and their work on their website.