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Breaking the Silence around menstruation

Soumya, a 14-year-old Girl Icon, lives and studies in Kalghattagi, Dharwad, which is a remote village in Karnataka. She belongs to a community where taboos around menstruation are profound. A vast majority of 12 to 15-year-old girls are enrolled in primary school but once they reach their puberty, something distressing happens. Majority of girls drop out of school by the age of 15, due to lack of basic menstrual sanitation and hygiene.

There’s a long history of menstrual taboos across nearly all cultures, and these continue to manifest in subtle and complex ways. With taboos and superstitions in different countries, even an open discussion in schools is impossible and about 71% of girls in India are unaware about menstruation before their first period. In India, 60% of adolescent girls drop out of school on account of menstruation and about 80% still use home-made pads.

Soumya is a very active and bright participant of the Girl Icon program, who always stood out due to her tenacity and passion for improving her community. Despite being bounded by countless social and cultural norms, she is fortunate to have parents who are literate and understand the importance of education. They support and encourage her to engage more in healthy activities that Milaan’s Girl Icon Program brings forth.

Soumya’s participation in the Girl Icon Program encouraged her to develop her own team of 20 peer group members with the aim to empower the girls in her community. She conducted meetings, passing on her knowledge, skills, enthusiasm to numerous other girls who were struggling to get out of their cocoon and stand up for their rights.

Menstruation is one of the oldest and most far-reaching taboos. It is ingrained in our social system to such depths that bringing a change in perspective towards this old customary belief is very hard to achieve.  Restrictions are placed on women and girls during menstruation, and the tradition of excluding menstruating women and girls from various activities continues. However, hard work and determination can make anything possible. Soumya, along with her 20 peer members, are in their mission to educate the society about menstruation and kill the taboos surrounding it. She believes it is only through creating awareness and speaking about it, without any hesitation, she can destroy the stigma around the idea of menstruation. Her social action projects were aimed towards ensuring that, more and more girls are able to avoid human rights violations and issues based on gender-based inequality. She is fighting to ensure that girls don’t drop out of school when they hit puberty due to social discrimination. Her humble and open-minded approach towards building relationships in the grassroots makes her a very popular leader and an ideal change maker among her peers.

Soumya is highly motivated by her passion for social justice and aspires to become a Software Engineer, so she can continue helping girls in her community. She is determined to achieve her dreams and continue working for the betterment of society.

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