Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and More: An Interview with Karan Babbar
In a conversation with Karan Babbar, a PhD scholar at IIM Ahmedabad, Shades of Happiness Foundation (SOHF) caught up with the essentials of understanding the famously considered taboo topics like menstruation, menstrual hygiene management, and the need for a conversation about menstruation among school children, especially the boys. It proceeded as follows:
Question: How would you define Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)?
Answer: Ideally, we should be beginning the conversation with menstrual hygiene management and eventually, we move should be moving on to menstrual health and hygiene management. So, initially, when the term was coined, it was said that girls needed proper pads or sanitary items that they can use to manage their menstrual needs. So when we talk about MHM, it is limited to the environmental aspects of menstruation alone. However, another equally important point is to know the personal and the inter-personal aspects of their menstrual practices like the duration of their periods, their access to sanitation, their menstrual knowledge, their freedom during menstruation, and social support among others. Combining all these is what constitutes menstrual health and hygiene.
Question: Since menstruation is not biologically confined to just the women or the girls, we have a better term for use nowadays – menstruators. Do you think it is possible to educate school kids about the term ‘menstruator’?
Answer: I don’t think it is the right time because to understand the term ‘menstruator’, a school kid will have to be taught from the basics – who is binary and who is non-binary, the LGBTQIA terminology and then, we have to let them know about the difference between gender and sex. So teaching them about the term entails a proper grounding of sex education, which is already very poor in a country like India. Otherwise, it is just going to another fancy addition to their vocabulary which will add to the confusion. That’s the broad consensus because it has been seen on multiple occasions that menstruating girls are not bullied by boys because they want to disturb them but mainly out of curiosity. So, if boys are taught about menstruation, there are chances that girls will be teased a lot less. Similarly, if they use the term menstruator and don’t fully comprehend it, it can lead to the bullying of transgender kids in particular. Gender inclusivity is the real idea here and only when we begin at the basics, can we finally teach them about the term ‘menstruator’.
Question: Do you then think that one must begin with the menstrual hygiene awareness campaign by talking about it with the boys, the school kids, first because their behaviour towards the menstruating population also counts significantly?
Answer: Of course, it is very important. In fact, I will be answering this question in two parts – Should it be done? Yes. Is it necessary for it to be done? Yes, it is very necessary. But can we tell them everything? I don’t think so, because sex education is something which they lack. I don’t think they’ll be able to appreciate it. So if we are to teach them everything, we need to begin with proper sex education first. But to answer your question, it is important that we tell them about menstruating girls and women. However, whatever we teach them, we must be careful about the amount of information we are giving them, how it is affecting them and how it might possibly affect the menstruating individual herself.
Question: We are always talking about the binary and the non-binary kids but we always tend to leave the specially-abled kids out of our conversation. How do we begin talking about menstruation with them?
Answer: So if we are talking about specially-abled girls, then they will get to attend the MHM sessions with the other girls. What I personally understand as per the situations I have seen and heard about, the specially-abled boys will never be bullying the menstruating girls because they themselves tend to be the victim of bullying and understand the pain of it. But that’s from my limited understanding of it alone. I don’t have any research to back it up. However, I think there’s no point in treating the specially-abled boys differently from the other boys in a class. All boys, without any distinction, should be taught about the basics of menstruation.
Question: Have you ever seen or personally experienced a kind of bias in how menstrual hygiene is talked about in schools or in other educational institutions?
Answer: Yes, because when we were school kids we were never taken into the classes where they talked about menstrual hygiene. The girls knew about it, yes, but the environment wasn’t suitable enough for others to talk about it. These days, however, we tend to talk about it more openly so I guess chances of bias are less now than it was, say, a decade back.
Question: If you were to make pointers about how to proceed with menstrual hygiene management educational programmes, what would they be?
Answer: I have talked with a few menstrual hygiene advocates, and while I maintain that boys and girls need to be taught about it together, maybe for the first couple of days, we need to teach them – the boys and the girls – separately. Then, when they are an equal level of understanding and information about it, then bring them together and discuss menstruation openly with them, not make it a one to one conversation. That social support is really going to help and is going to affect in a healthier way in the future.
Question: Any message for the children at Shades of Happiness Foundation?
Answer: Socially support everyone because the world is a better place when you support everyone.
Karan is currently engaged in conducting a study analyzing the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the menstrual health of the menstruators. If you wish to participate in the survey (he promises that it won’t you longer than 10 minutes), here’s a link to the same: https://iima.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bQu8auxXzNY9BUV
(Featured Image from Google)
Written by Ahendrila Goswami