In the village Gurudwara’s compound, 11 women sit together to discuss a taboo subject. Thirty-eight-year-old Raaj is facilitating the discussion around menstruation and other challenges faced by women.
In Punjab’s village society, this is a very unusual occurrence. Although women work hard at home and outside, mostly as farm labor, they play a subordinate role in their families. Women’s health and hygiene is considered unimportant, and never discussed openly. Menstrual shaming makes women hide their condition, resulting in the use of unhygienic practices that severely compromise their health.
Under the aegis of RoundGlass Foundation, the women of Aloona Tola came together to form a self-help group. They met regularly to discuss common issues, and to support and motivate each other, and create the change they want to see.
In the past few months they have learnt about personal health and hygiene, rejected the stigmas attached to menstruation, and even created a small business manufacturing sanitary pads. They have also encouraged men to join in their efforts.
They are a motley crew bound by a common thread – they all want to forge better future for themselves and for their children. Sapna wants to go back and finish her education. Raaj wants to supplement the family income. Manpreet wants to repair her home. Baljit wants to save for her children. Bholi wants to pay for her children’s education.
Bolstered by each other’s support, they now have found a collective voice for positive change that will not be silenced. When one of the girls in the village dropped out of school, the Self-Help Group marched to her house, counseled the parents and ensured the girl was re-enrolled.
“Earlier, every time there was problem, a member would try to address it herself or with her family.” Raaj explains. “We always thought it was not nice to share personal problems. But after several discussions, we realized we all had the same concerns and talking about them gave us a better chance of resolving the problems. And that has been the defining motto of our group since — share all problems, issues, happiness and disappointments.”
Travelling out of the village for the first time, the group attended a skills training program run by the government. They learnt about accounting, repayments, book maintenance, women leadership, and banking procedures.
The women of Self-Help Group of Aloona Tola are becoming an inspiration to others, and a source of support and confidence for each other.