At the height of the Covid pandemic, London Rotarian, Sharmila Nagarajan, decided to beat the boredom by reaching out to other female Rotarians and set up a casual WhatsApp group.
That was in April 2020, barely one month into lockdown into the UK.
Within a matter of months, this informal digital discussion forum became a fully-fledged Rotary International Women’s group featuring more than 250 members from 21 countries.
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Sharmila, a member of Tower Hamlets Rotary, was initially joined by Vidhya Srini (Chennai Temple City Rotary) and Denise Klischan (Ibiza Rotary).
“We all came together via WhatsApp, with the aim of connecting female Rotarians from all over the world to raise a common, women-oriented project,” explained Sharmila. And that common project was menstrual health.
“Menstrual health is not just a women’s issue. In fact, 2.3 billion people across the world live without basic sanitation services, while according to UNICEF, only 27% of people in developing countries have adequate handwashing facilities at home.
Educating girls and boys on menstruation at an early age at home and school promotes healthy habits and breaks stigmas around the natural process.”
“As a result, it becomes harder for women and young girls to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
“Girls with special needs and disabilities disproportionately do not have access to the facilities or the resources they need for proper menstrual hygiene.
“Living in conflict-affected areas, or in the aftermath of natural disasters, also makes it more difficult for women and girls to manage their periods.”
These were some of the underlying factors behind the establishment of a Rotary Action Group focussed on menstrual health and hygiene.
And so, in March 2021 and with the approval of the Rotary International Board, the Rotary Action Group Menstrual Health & Hygiene (RAGMHH) was formed.
Menstrual hygiene management is a globally-recognised public health challenge.
Around the world, a growing coalition of academics, donors, non-governmental organisations, and United Nations agencies are coming together to address the issues.
These include menstrual-related shame and taboo in some countries, or period poverty which is a reality in the developed countries. There is also the all-important universal issue of soil pollution, due to the menstrual product waste.
These are all themes which chime with Rotary’s areas of focus including literacy, maternal & child health, peace, preventive health care, economic development, and the environment.
RAGMHH is open to Rotarians across the world to spread awareness about ‘period poverty’.
Rotarian B Dakshayani is the group’s director of fund-raising and a talented artist. In November last year, some of her paintings went on display at an exhibition in Kingston, Surrey, to raise funds for RAGMHH.
A member of the Rotary Club of Meenambakkam in Chennai, India, she donated one of her paintings to the Rotary Passport Club in District 1130 (Rotary in London), which will be auctioned by President Sujay Paul.
Daksha has been a Rotarian for 21 years and a beneficiary of Rotary’s Youth Exchange Programme 30 years ago.
She explained: “In countries like the UK, US, and Europe, people are surprised to learn there are women in several countries who cannot afford sanitary napkins.
“As a result, in some villages in India, women are forced into isolation on the outskirts during their menstrual cycle.
“Our RAG is keen to give ease and comfort to all women across the world.
“We want to educate them about menstrual hygiene and availability of various options such as cloth pads and menstrual cups.
“We are working on extending these conversations with men as well so that better understanding may lead to healthier relationships.
“We need funds to help adolescent girls and young women with menstrual health and hygiene resources.”
The group’s tagline is: Break the silence – Speak up.
To achieve menstrual equity that means resolving a number of key issues such as access to sanitary products, proper toilets, hand washing facilities and sanitation. Hygiene education, and waste management is also key.
We need funds to help adolescent girls and young women with menstrual health and hygiene resources.”
RAGMHH has been conducting train the trainer sessions and awareness programmes for its members. Menstrual products have also been distributed to needy areas, with Asia and the African region being key focus areas.
Workshops have taken place to educate girls and women on cloth pads and menstrual cups.
“It shouldn’t be forgotten that young boys can benefit from menstrual hygiene education too,” added Sharmila.
“Educating girls and boys on menstruation at an early age at home and school promotes healthy habits and breaks stigmas around the natural process.
“We are asking people to think global and act local.”
For more please visit the RAGMHH website.