Ankita (name changed) is a fifteen-year-old girl from Rajula in rural Gujarat who lives alone with her father. Ankita began menstruating about six months ago. “My friends in school told me this is something that happens to girls. But no one knew how or why,” she says.
Every month, she had severe menstrual cramps and told her father that her stomach hurt. Her father, who didn’t understand what was going on, scolded her for eating bad food and took her to the doctor. Ankita felt too embarrassed to tell the male doctor about having her period, so the doctor gaveher injections to treat what seemed like persistent stomach bugs. The injections and the pain weakened her and she missed several days of school every month.
“I don’t know what would have happened if Rubina didi hadn’t come to our village,” says Ankita. “Rubina didi taught us about periods and encouraged me to tell the doctor about my problem.”The doctor gave Ankita the necessary medicine and advised her about the diet, rest and exercise that she needed to lessen her cramps.
Now Ankita is much happier and more at ease. “I teach all the other girls in my class about periods the way Rubina didi taught me,” says Ankita. “I don’t want anyone else to face the same problems.”
Rubina Bhatti is a field worker for AKAH India’s Menstrual Health Management (MHM) programme, which is one of the several interlinked behavioural and structural components of the Environmental Health Improvement Programme (EHIP). AKAH India runs EHIP in collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation under the AKDN Sanitation Initiative. She conducts MHM awareness sessions for women and men of all ages in rural communities in Gujarat. “Due to superstition and shame the women in the villages I go to have never spoken about menstruation in their lives. Most of the time, it is a topic that generates uncomfortable laughter,” says Rubina.
Over the past year, AKAH India has conducted over 150 MHM awareness sessions and reached out to over 7,000 women and girls in schools and communities in Gujarat and Maharashtra. For most, like Ankita, these sessions have been their first opportunity to understand an integral part of their health. Women of all ages have attended the sessions, as have some men. Many have formed support groups to educate other women and girls about menstruation. AKAH India, through facilitators like Rubina, encourages these women to meet regularly and to be advocates for menstrual health in their schools and homes.
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Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) works to ensure that poor people live in physical settings that are as safe as possible from the effects of natural disasters; that residents who do live in high-risk areas are able to cope with disasters in terms of preparedness and response; and that these settings provide access to social and financial services that lead to greater opportunity and a better quality of life.
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