Home Leaders Speak CSR Leaders: Rachita Kasliwal, Co-founder, Medyseva opens up about their menstrual hygiene...

CSR Leaders: Rachita Kasliwal, Co-founder, Medyseva opens up about their menstrual hygiene awareness initiative

Madhya Pradesh-based telemedicine healthcare startup Medyseva has recently started an initiative to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene in rural areas as part of their flagship campaign ‘Har Ghar Swasth’.
Even though we are progressing as a nation and winning accolades on the global stage, rural India continues to battle challenges like poor menstrual hygiene, taboos, superstitions and lack of awareness.
Rachita Kasliwal, Co-founder, Medyseva opens up to The CSR Journal about their initiative, talking about the health hazards which happen due to poor menstrual practices, the challenges they are facing while talking about menstrual hygiene in rural areas and why menstrual hygiene awareness is necessary for men, particularly in villages. Following are the excerpts from the conversation.

Please tell us about Medyseva’s menstrual hygiene awareness initiative

We have around 50 centres across India, majority of them being in Madhya Pradesh, and the rest are located in states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Assam. Wherever we have Medyseva kendras, we conduct periodic healthcare awareness sessions at schools, colleges and other places. Recently, we have started this menstrual hygiene awareness initiative. We also have an online awareness initiative called Medy Talk, where we have gynecologists and other doctors speaking about this. We conduct webinars and sessions in public places to create awareness around menstrual hygiene. We also distribute sanitary napkins for free.

What inspired this program?

A lot of rural women still do not use sanitary pads etc during menstruation, and those who do, have very limited knowledge about disposing them of properly after use. When thrown out in the open, these become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests, leading to health problems in the nearby areas. We have seen cases where females have problems due to unhygienic menstrual habits. While visiting different places for opening new centres, we saw certain incorrect menstrual practices in some of the areas. All these inspired us to take this up as a project and to do something for the society.
Apart from issues related to hygiene, there are social and cultural taboos. We had a female worker in one of our centres, who would not turn up on certain days saying she is not allowed to step out of her home while menstruating. We have kept some volunteers for data collection from villages. Even the volunteers refuse to go out on a certain days saying they are not allowed to step out of their houses during this time or interact with males. Even their daughters cannot go to school during this time. A lot of these practices encouraged us to start this initiative so that we can change people’s mindset and increase awareness.
Spreading awareness among school girls

Women in several parts of India till date face restrictions like not entering kitchen or touching pickles during menstruation. What do you have to say about this?

Women not being able to enter the kitchen or temple are a major thing in parts of our country even today. It’s still okay if you do not enter the temple for three days but missing work, not being able to cook, sleeping on a separate bed, having separately cooked food, all these makes a person isolated.
Most of us have experienced living in isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic and we know how terrible that was. Facing it every month with people in your family and neighbourhood knowing why you are in isolation, considering it as impurity or some kind of disease, they look down upon you for something so natural and biological, all these make a woman lose confidence. The woman starts looking down upon herself, thinking, something is wrong with me.
Isolating a woman and imposing unwarranted restrictions on her during menstruation leaves a deep psychological impact on her. She starts looking down upon herself and loses confidence. This is why awareness should be created. The perception that menstruation is something ‘unnatural’ or ‘dirty’ needs to change

Unhygienic menstrual practices lead to what kind of health hazards?

Poor menstrual practices can lead to infection in the reproductive tract. These infections can even lead to infertility issues. Urinary Tract Infection or UTI is also one of the infections which happen. If not addressed on time, this could lead to cervical cancer also. Ultimately, it can be very fatal.
We have seen cases where even if females are using sanitary napkin, they’ll not change the napkin very often because they think it is very expensive or because they don’t know how to use it. Keeping that same product on for a long number of hours can cause severe health problems.
How to properly use sanitary pads, when to change— all these are very common and basic for women in urban areas but it is not so common and basic for the rural women. Very few women actually use sanitary pads in these areas, they mostly use dirty rags. They are not changing it often or not cleaning it properly. So, at every step there is a problem.
Free sanitary pad distribution by Medyseva

Are sanitary pads costly or is there some other reason why a lot of rural women don’t use these?

More than affordability, the issue is of awareness and acceptance. Because they have been using cloths and other things for generations, so that is how they’ve been taught by their grandmothers and mothers. They think this is the way of life and this is how it has to be done. Certainly with television commercials and government’s campaign to distribute sanitary napkins and spread awareness, the picture is changing.

Why awareness on menstrual hygiene is necessary for men?

In a rural household, females normally don’t do the purchasing. They don’t go out and buy things, be it everyday things like grocery or medicine and even clothes– everything is done by the male member. So, they’re heavily dependent upon the male members.
If there is no change in the attitude of the male member, if they are not educated about this, if they don’t realise the importance of menstrual hygiene, then they are not going to buy sanitary napkins for their wife or give her money for that purpose.
If males are open and accepting about it, they will also let women participate in everyday activities during menstruation whatever they do during the rest of the month. Women working at the field or farm or construction site will not have to skip work and lose their payment for 4-5 days. This way, the household will be balanced and healthy. This is why awareness is equally necessary for men, especially in rural areas.

Does your awareness program also include men?

At school level we conduct this awareness program for adolescents and teenagers both girls and boys. While conducting such awareness camps in public areas, we are facing resistance. They refuse to attend a program which talks about this topic. So, what we do is, we pick up a general topic like health and hygiene for everyone and talk about women’s hygiene during that. Hope this will bring about a change even though it will take time.
We distribute leaflets, pamphlets and posters whenever we inaugurate a new centre. We also distribute sanitary napkins to female patients and talk to them about this. We also remind our Medyseva centre owners to talk to patients about this and spread awareness. Talking about it, sharing printed materials, making it as visible as possible, that is how we plan to bring the change.