DEF has been working for digital empowerment for the last 20 years across India (24 states; 135 districts). During this period, and through implementing various programmes on the field, the organization has witnessed how at least half of the population (adolescent girls and women) of rural and semi-urban India continue to face different types of health-related problems owing to inadequate knowledge and awareness about menstruation.
UNICEF’s research revealed that 71% of the adolescent girls in India do not have any knowledge, or have no access to information about menstruation until they hit puberty. Another research investigation that Dasra, a non-profit organization, carried out in 2019 revealed that an average of 2.3 crore adolescent girls in India drop out of school every year after they start menstruating because they do not have access to either sanitary pads or disposable menstrual products. Bound by the stigma surrounding menstruation, buying sanitary pads, finding a place to throw them, and keeping themselves clean every month becomes a cause of mental stress for adolescent girls. This stress is aggravated especially among adolescent girls and women who hail from economically and socially marginalized sections of society.
Owing to the patriarchal society that we live in, and the invisiblization and silence that has been maintained with regard to the topic of menstruation, adolescent girls and women are made to intrinsically feel menstrual shame, and develop a self-deprecating attitude towards one’s own bodies. According to the Global Citizen Report 2018, it came out that 1 out of every 5 adolescent girls stops going to school after their first period has been highlighted. This is a huge number, and thus affects the future of these girls since they are pulled out of educational institutions, and are led down a path of illiteracy, early marriage, and social, economic, and mental subjugation.
In its 20 years of working towards connecting the unconnected at the grassroots, we found that the participation of women in community meetings has always been disproportionate in relation to the participation of men. In our trainings, we also observed that adolescent girls stop going to school after menstruation, and often the reason for this is the stigma attached to menstruation, lack of sanitary products, and access to information. Over the years, the orthodox and regressive value systems and ideologies continue to circulate and influence the societal mindsets. Stemming from the urgent need to destigmatize menstruation, DEF launched the ‘Digital Didi’ programme to create awareness among adolescent girls and women in rural and semi-urban India about misconceptions and misinformation surrounding menstruation and to communicate authentic information, facilitate access to sustainable menstrual products and better health infrastructure.