Ramdas Shenoyy speaks to young students from NCR region on the REDefine campaign and more..
The REDefine movement and the journey
It goes back to 2017 when Tara Palchaudhuri, Ritika Khosla, Meher Shivie Choudhry, Anshika Gupta, Pranavi Jamwal , Jhanvi Natarajan were joined by Yuvana Sahi, Samara Sahi, Siya Jatia, Anaanya Poddar and Tihara Wickramasinghe in 2020 to manage their initiative ReDefine (www.theredefinecampaign.com). Their main goal has always been, to spread awareness and educate young girls on the biology of menstruation and sexual health along with maintaining proper hygiene during this time.
The ‘REDefine Campaign’ is a non-profit menstrual health campaign and movement aimed at promoting menstrual and sexual health and hygiene amongst the underprivileged population in the NCR, India, vide talks at various government schools and NGOs. As the name signifies, the mission is to “REDefine” the state of menstruation in our society. You may have guessed already, but the emphasis on “Red” comes from the colour of blood. The awareness level amongst young girls is at dismal levels leave alone the information dissemination amongst boys. It is still a big stigma and people talk about menstruation in a ‘hush-hush’ manner. They want to address these issues by providing information about menstrual hygiene, health, and sexual hygiene to underprivileged girls via talks at other NGOs.
The idea germinated when these girls were in grade 10, conducted a survey on taboo topics like that of LGBTQ+, feminism and menstruation called “All Things Unsaid.” Although they rarely encountered stigmatized remarks around periods and pads in the society, the results of the survey showcased a palpable silence around menstruation. When asked about why pads are sold in black packets in India, one user said it was to prevent the spread of AIDS, cancer, and arthritis. This lack of understanding and awareness shocked them, and determined to make a difference, that is when they decided to create this campaign.
India is a hypocritical society and across all strata and geography the challenges remain..how you are addressing it.
We’re a group of teenage girls, with limited resources- due to which we operate only in the Delhi-NCR region as of right now. While our work is limited to this area- Delhi is a melting pot of culture and has people from all different walks of life and religion.
We try to scope out the girls’ knowledge and understanding of these topics by giving them a survey that allows us to tailor our talks to them, and what they need to learn. One of the biggest challenges of hypocrisy that we saw was early on in the beginning of REDefine- we wanted to not only teach the girls about periods, we wanted to provide them with pads as well. An older woman we met claimed to know another ‘self-help’ group that manufactured sanitary napkins that we could give the girls. Ordering the sanitary napkins in bulk we noticed that they had yellow and brown stains on them and were of terrible quality. When confronting the woman about this, she simply ignored it and claimed that it was okay because these were going to be better than what the girls already used in the homes and also we were helping another group by doing this. The lady did not recognize her privilege, she claimed she wanted to help, but the hypocrisy she portrayed by not caring about the health of the girls and about possibly subjecting them to UTIs and infections displayed the kind of privilege heavy system we live in.
There’s nothing we can do about it except educate and spread awareness on the topics- and hope that it reaches the ears of everyone and can trigger something within them to help them recognize their privileges and the struggle of others.
With so much of the internet…why would anyone like to attend your sessions which is not available as an information.
Our campaign is catered towards unprivileged girls in NGOs and government schools, many of which do not have access to a reliable source of the internet. Additionally, the internet is a source of all the information in the world, but that is only if you know what to search for. Most people don’t know what it is they need to look up to get that information, which is the exact problem we are trying to tackle. And like mentioned before, the topic of discussion is a sensitive one. As teenage girls who have had the experiences of periods and struggled with it ourselves, we are able to make the session more personal and connect with the audience. The internet can provide the information, but it would be generic and attempt to put every person under one giant umbrella. With topics like menstruation, many girls go through different experiences and thus, our talks are tailored keeping in mind the backgrounds and experiences of the group we will be giving the talk to. We are able to do this as before every talk, we visit the school/NGO and ask the girls to fill a survey detailed with questions that let us know their level of knowledge on such topics as menstruation, puberty, etc and their opinions on these topics. This allows us to take into account their customs and traditions while curating the talk, and address where there is an information gap for the girls.
There is attention to detail in our talks, the face to face interaction makes it easier to learn and create a sense of community that makes everyone comfortable while discussing the topics in question.
What is the credibility that you bring on table as your mentors …like doctors, pharma guys etc..
As mentioned earlier- in grade 10 a group of us held a survey called “All Things Unsaid” that focused on topics such as menstruation, feminism and the LGBTQ+ community. Creating that survey was a tedious and long project, for which we turned to our teachers and counselors at school. The experience of creating the survey allowed us to learn to address sensitive topics in a cautious manner and also how to connect with the audience on a personal level.
As for mentors, we don’t have many- we seek the guidance of Education Alliance’s CEO, Amitav Virmani, from time to time to deliberate about our next step and project. The talks we give are purely educational- we bring together what we’ve gone through as young women who have just come out of adolescence and what we believe is basic information every girl going through or starting this journey should know, and thus we are able to connect on a personal level and help them understand the processes happening in their bodies. We’ve done copious amounts of research on our own terms in order to make sure that the information we are offering is correct. Nothing we tell the girls is to do with expert medical advice, simply education that can easily be found in the right biology textbook. We don’t claim to be medical experts giving our opinions, we’re simply young girls who want to spread awareness on these topics.
If it was an all woman world you will not need this…how are you going to sensitize men/boys and the society at large?
That was one of our goals, to not only educate young girls but also open up this topic for educating men and young boys as well. Earlier on we had a male member as a part of the initiative who accompanied us for our talks, which in turn helped the girls understand that men can also know and learn about periods as well.
Hopefully in the near future, we can add more male members to our growing initiative. More so, we can also convince more male members of the NGOs/schools we visit to sit in for the talks to help them learn, as well as sensitize them to the topic.
Brief profile of the team
We’re a group of 10 teenage girls, 6 starting college and 4 in high school. All of us have our own interests- ranging from poetry, music, art to science and business but share the common want to educate and spread awareness on the topics of menstruation and sexual health and make a difference in the lives of the girls we meet.