What is Uteri of Kerala, Unite?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty aspects of the campaign, let’s make some observations. When someone comes up to you, and says “Let’s talk about Menstruation (periods), how does this make you feel? If you feel comfortable enough to say “Sure, let’s talk about it then”, you’re among a minority of people who aren’t hesitant to talk about menstruation. But most people are, and that causes problems.
‘Uteri of Kerala, Unite’ is a campaign that we conceptualised in order to tackle these problems from a grassroots level; more specifically from schools. The reason being, even in today’s day and age, many schools in Kerala are not open to hold healthy conversations about bodily processes like menstruation. The absence of such safe spaces is bound to culminate in propagation of misinformation, unscientific beliefs, menstrual stigma and taboo often compounded by shame and embarrassment surrounding sexual reproduction in the long run.
But aren’t schools already taking classes on menstruation?
Yes. There are indeed lessons on menstruation that are formally included in the curriculum for class 8. Young girls in Kerala’s schools believe that every student should be introduced to the fundamentals of menstrual health from classes 6th or 7th. It is vital that students learn about menarche and the changes that come with it, before or during its onset. Primarily due to the assumption that early onset of menarche is increasingly becoming common.
Most of the time, when girls get their first cycle, they are uninformed. There is a gap of two or more years until they receive a formal education on the topic. They tend to turn to other sources, which are in abundance, for information. We cannot rule out the possibility of them being influenced by unscientific beliefs or misinformation. Even if conversations do take place in schools and within families, they are limited to personal hygiene. That being said, there is no conversation addressing menstrual health in a comprehensive manner. Formally including menstrual health in the curriculum from class 6 onward is essential to facilitate a support system they need from an institution that consists of the curriculum, peers, and teachers. Even so, learning at school alone, isn’t sufficient, but that’s an issue for later.
What is the end goal?
Through the ‘Uteri of Kerala, Unite’ campaign, The Red Cycle aims to open the discourse, bringing about significant policy changes that will result in necessary amendments in the existing curriculum. It is about time that these conversations are normalised, and safe spaces are built, starting from the classrooms where these individuals are in, with their mentors and peers.
Okay, but what do I, as a member outside the organisation or the community that you speak of, do? How is this affecting me and what can I possibly do to help?
Singularly due to the fact that there is a lot of conscious or unconscious ignorance that has to be nipped in the bud. We’ve all heard questions and generalised statements like “So what? It occurs every month”, “She is PMS-ing”, ”Is this really that big of a deal?” that still flies around pretty easily. Some equate menstruation to menstrual products. Some believe that these individuals only need care only for the time they get periods. Most of us fail to realise it’s an ongoing cycle; from menarche to menopause. This notion that they only need care for a marked number of days dampens the coexistence of the menstruators and non menstruators. As a society founded on the principles of constitutional values, we need to do a lot of learning and unlearning until menstruation is a topic that can be talked about freely and without any prejudice or stereotype.
The above assumptions are made on certain observations we’ve gathered from our surroundings and day to day interactions. That being said, we don’t intend to fight for a cause based on mere assumptions. The ‘Uteri of Kerala Unite’ campaign will undertake a baseline survey that will include college students and school teachers. Based on the results of this survey, we will consult experts in the field, deliberate, and incorporate their suggestions and inputs. We will then chart a demand based on the collective findings of these processes that will be sent to the concerned authorities.
Let the generalising and the shaming stop. Let’s have a conversation instead, and learn from each other. A group of allies that include both menstruating and non-menstruating individuals would make all the difference, really.