Through 'The Red Pad Movement', Khushi Paliwal, a 21-year-old law student, has been making a difference in the lives of adolescent girls in rural Rajasthan by fighting against the taboos surrounding menstruation.
Rajasthan— Khushi hails from Udaipur city, where she noticed that periods were considered a taboo topic by everyone except for her parents. She remembers being confused when she first got her period and went to buy pads with her mother, and the chemist wrapped it in a newspaper. For years, she wondered why carrying pads in public was considered wrong.
"Even though I went to a private co-ed school with students from privileged backgrounds, periods were still not normalized. Neither did we receive a period talk from our teachers, nor were the boys mature enough to understand the stain on our skirts" Khushi told The Mooknayak. In high school, nothing changed, and Khushi grew tired of girls being shamed and policed by teachers and men around her. She wished that she could do something about it.
In college, Khushi joined an NGO to help underprivileged girls become aware of menstrual health. This opened her eyes, and she realized that whatever she had experienced so far was just the tip of the iceberg. Since then, she has been going to various villages to create awareness about periods, but it hasn’t been easy. "Male Sarpanchs and school principals were not welcoming to the idea. However, me and my team managed to convince the villages of Badi, namely Upli Badi and Chapra to begin with" Khushi reminisced. It has been over 10 months now with the Red Pad Movement, Khushi and her friends have been making significant efforts in eliminating period shaming and igniting period positivity among people.
Khushi tells that the Rajasthan government introduced a scheme 'Udaan' and began distributing free sanitary pads in government schools, colleges and Anganbadi kendras. "There are only 5-6 pads in the free packets given to girls but we all know every girl needs 10 to 15 pads to manage her periods normally. So isn't it just a formality that the government is doing?" she raised a significant question.
Khushi also says that free distribution of pads doesn't means that girls specially in the rural areas, are introduced to reproductive health. They need to know how their bodies actually grow, or the anatomy of genital organs. In rural areas, girls have no knowledge about how to tackle their menstrual health. So, Khushi's team focuses on informative sessions.
She has conducted menstrual awareness drives and preventive talks on sexual abuse in more than 20 remote areas and distributed sanitary pads there, making people aware of the usage, disposal, and changing guidelines. They even constructed separate toilets for boys, girls, and the specially-abled in areas where no action had been taken by the government.
"There are toilets in schools but only the staff use them. There is no water where there are toilets and if there is water, there would be no soap" Khushi narrates the sorry pictures of government schools. The team also came to know that in several areas menstruating girls do not know the correct way to dispose the pads. "In the surveys conducted in Nayi, Kodiyat, Upali Badi and other villages, girls told the surveying teams that the either threw the stained pads away in some water bodies or they buried them. The local bodies need to find a solution for proper waste disposal in rural areas" Khushi demands.
Khushi's project, The Red Pad, is a Period Positive Movement that works for menstruators and non-menstruators. It initiates genuine discussions about 'Periods' — the most hidden blood and the one that is rarely spoken of. Under this umbrella, Khushi has addressed tribal, informal, and rural sections of the economy about menstruation as a biological process co-relating with the reproductive cycle. It entails building a complete understanding not only of the subject but also mobilizing the community towards the usage of safe menstrual products to ensure the maintenance of hygiene levels during periods.
Khushi's aim is to make teens and adults aware of their right to live with dignity and how breaking taboos and stereotypes in society are crucial. She places a major focus on the upliftment of rural spaces. "Cultural and societal norms on menstruation are one such issue that we are still struggling to overcome. It puts lives at risk and is often compounded into serious infections. Lack of authentic conversations about menstruation turns out to be the fifth biggest killer of women in the world" Khushi asserts.
The Red Pad movement tries to promote fun-cum-learning sessions with means of creativity, projection of movies, and public participation. The campaign is ignited with a motive to bring change in the perspective of society about 'Menstruation' — the word attached with several myths, taboos, and stereotypes. To date, the project has played an active role in ending period shame in more than 20 rural areas of Rajasthan and imparted biological explanations to newly achieved puberty girls where education, health, and hygiene status is low.
On the eve of International Women's Day, Khushi and her team organised a wall painting session.
"We decided to color the celebration with #PeriodPositivity. With the support of school authorities and administration, we built Rajasthan's first school whose walls speak of Period Education" she said. The paintings and the period positivity concept was promoted on the walls by the grade 8th students of Sanskrit government school, Rampura. "The wall painting talks about several issues associated with Periods Myth as one should always do a conversation with someone like a mother & teacher about periods, secondly, the art highlights the diagram of the uterus with flowers all around, the bleeding population of India, a calendar representing the four days bleeding, to visit a gynecologist in case of abnormality etc" the young girl illustrated excitedly.
The Red Pad team on previous occasions had done two prolonged exhibitions at Fatehsagar aiming to to push the urban population of Udaipur to stand against the taboos related to periods.
"In a particular exhibition, we showcased a large 10x20 ft painting that symbolized women bleeding for life. As a part of the exhibition, we also organized the #theredhandchallenge, where the people of Udaipur were invited to participate by putting their hands in red color and imprinting it on the painting to show their support for period positivity. Within just two hours, we received more than 100 handprints on the painting, indicating the overwhelming support for our cause", Khushi added.