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‘Adopt holistic menstrual health with food, yoga, counselling’

‘Adopt holistic menstrual health with food, yoga, counselling’

Holistic menstrual health goes beyond just access to clean toilets, water, soaps and sanitary napkins, says World of Women co-founder Nirmala Nayak

Six years ago, the Bengaluru-based organisation World of Women (WOW) started on a journey to take the message of menstrual health and hygiene to less-advantaged girls and women.

“It’s a taboo subject,” says Nirmala Nayak, the co-founder and former president of WOW.

The challenge of creating awareness on menstrual hygiene management and providing free sanitary kits to girls and women from rural and slum areas of Karnataka motivated Nayak and six of her women friends to take the plunge. Nayak, who has three decades of experience working as a counsellor and yoga therapist, insists on adopting ‘holistic menstrual health with food, yoga and counselling.’

World of Women co-founder Nirmala Nayak

She has previously worked as a counsellor in Bengaluru at Vanitha Sahayavani (women’s helpline) run by the police commissionerate, Belaku Old Age Home for Women and Prasanna Trust, among other places. Nayak says her years of experience in interacting with, counselling and coaching vulnerable women and girls guided her work in WOW too.

Excerpts from the interview:

Happiest Health: What do you mean by holistic menstrual health?

Nayak: Along with access to clean toilets, water, soaps and sanitary napkins, we want every woman and girl to adopt holistic menstrual health. It involves nutritious food, yoga, meditation and counselling. Every month, girls and women go through a lot of physical and emotional changes, pain and unease because of periods. It is also about their reproductive health. Most of them don’t know how to deal with their inner and outer conflicts.

The main hindrances in providing menstrual health and hygiene are various taboos, low awareness and lack of facilities. Since we work at the grassroots level in villages, semi-urban areas and city slums, we teach women and girls to eat fruits and vegetables and do yoga and meditation, and [we also] provide the necessary counselling.

We want to empower women and girls with knowledge about menstruation and expand the dialogue. We want them to celebrate menstruation instead of feeling guilty, embarrassed, fearful and ashamed.

Happiest HealthTell us about WOW’s menstrual kit.

Nayak: In six years, we have reached out to 25,000 beneficiaries through 80 workshops. We have gifted around 18,00,000 pads by distributing our menstrual kits to women and girls in Karnataka free of cost. We want to expand our work across the country. Each kit costs us Rs 500. We depend on our donors to buy the kits. The kits are of two kinds: sanitary napkin kit and menstrual cup kit. Each sanitary napkin kit consists of 72 pads (for one year), two panties and Rutuchakra, a book on menstrual health. Similarly, each menstrual cup kit — an attempt to make periods greener — consists of one menstrual cup, two panties and the book Rutuchakra.

Happiest Health: What is the book Rutuchakra about?

Nayak: I wrote Rutuchakra for people who hesitate to ask questions and learn about different aspects of menstruation. It’s in English, Hindi and Kannada. Currently, the book is being translated into Tamil for a wider audience. The menstrual cycle in Ayurveda is called Rutuchakra. Hence, the title of the book.

Happiest Health: What kind of social impact does WOW intend to achieve?

Nayak: It is an ongoing process. First and foremost, we are educating women and girls about various solutions available for menstruation management. It includes nutrition, physical health through yoga and mental wellness. In our attempt to raise awareness about women’s rights in rural and urban spaces, we include men and boys along with women and girls.

We are happy that our awareness drive has helped address public health issues. Our attempt is to save lives and prevent diseases and pain. By providing access to menstrual health and hygiene, we are trying to address the school dropout rate among girls. In rural India, one in four girls is forced to leave education after they start menstruating. Likewise, we want to reduce the loss of employment days and increase income among the women workforce by providing them with WOW’s sanitary kits.

Happiest Health: What is the role of the male gender in ensuring menstrual health and hygiene among women?

Nayak: We always emphasise that we can’t keep men and boys away from the whole conversation related to menstrual health. It is an issue of the females where males should have an active role. Every time we conduct our awareness drive along with the distribution of sanitary kits, male members of the community, be it in villages or urban slums, take part. We have always received positive responses from the men and boys. They are ready to listen, understand and help in working towards safer, better and healthier practices related to menstruation management.

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