India Interior

Where apron strings secure freedom from society’s curbs

Usha Rai | Updated on February 22, 2020 Published on February 22, 2020

An NGO makes aprons innovative tools to educate the young on reproductive health

Some 30 years ago, when Pallavi Patel of the well-known NGO, CHETNA (Centre for Health, Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness), set out to train traditional birth attendants or dais in the tribal belts of Gujarat, it was important to give graphic information on the human reproductive system, menstruation and child birth. Though they delivered babies and, with practice, began understanding the various stages of pregnancy and complications that might arise, the dais needed more clarity on the reproductive system.

So, the health team worked on aprons made out of packaging cloth, locally known as madarpet. On each apron, one stage of menstruation was painted using water colours. After the various stages were painted on different aprons, the dais wore them and stood in a row. The trainer, with the series of colourful aprons before her, would explain the process of menstruation. At the end of the training, the organisations that had sought CHETNA’s expertise for the training sessions requested that the aprons be left behind.

Realising that the aprons were proving to be useful tools for teaching a health issue like menstruation that people in the Eighties and Nineties were reluctant to talk about, CHETNA decided to make the aprons user-friendly and mass-produce them. Smita Bajpai of CHETNA and designer Suchitra from the National Institute for Design were given the responsibility.

Currently about 30,000 aprons are being used across the country for training health workers as well as adolescents. In the last five years, there has been a surge in the demand. NGOs, local as well as international, government departments as well as corporates involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and schools are using the aprons for training as well as creating awareness in adolescents on reproductive health.

The aprons are now painted in 10 languages — Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Assamese, Odia, Bengali and English and their price is ₹150 for the women’s apron and ₹185 for those on men/boys. The women’s apron has half a dozen flaps and the male apron more flaps to explain different parts of the human anatomy and their role in reproduction.

Kandu Kale Aske, a sachetjiji or health worker from a village in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh, says many adolescents start their periods uninformed and unprepared. “Earlier, we discussed menstruation using sign language or code words. During the training programme of CHETNA, for the first time, we got to know about our womb, the egg sac and the lining that breaks when the egg is not fertilised. We learnt why we bleed during menstruation and that menstruation is a natural process and not dirty.”

Silence broken

“We started discussing menstruation wearing the cloth apron. It took us some time but now, without any hesitation we can talk about it during ‘Mangal Diwas’ (special day to talk about health and nutrition with women and adolescent girls) and at meetings of Self-Help Groups. Young girls and women are interested to learn about menstruation and the care to be taken. The silence around menstruation has finally broken. Our own families and a few families in our villages have taken the initiative to stop treating girls as untouchables during menstruation. We let our girl enter the kitchen while she is menstruating but we are still scared of men’s reaction about temple entry during those days. I am confident we will change their thinking too. It is after some hesitation that I have started attending bhajans during menstruation”.

While providing scientific information, the aprons have served as tools to empower women. Armed with their new knowledge, women have started discarding the myths about menstruation. However, earlier this month, there was an alarming incident in the Shri Sahjanand Girls Institute of Bhuj, where 68 undergraduate girl students were asked to remove their undergarments to prove they were not menstruating after the hostel-in-charge complained to the principal that the girls were violating religious norms by entering kitchens, temples, etc. Understandably, there was a huge protest by the girls who thought they were in an empowering institute of learning.

Based on the success of the apron for women, aprons on the male reproductive system were designed and 10,000 sold to those working with adolescent males. The demonstration with the aprons, after some initial hesitation, opens up discussion on various issues of the young growing to adulthood.

In Sabarkantha district of Gujarat, where separate sessions are held with girls and boys about their reproductive system using the aprons, Dr Prajapati says questions are asked about nightfall and whether girls too have nightfall.

Boys also ask about menses or the monthly periods that girls have and why boys don’t have it. They ask about condoms and emergency contraceptive pills whose advertisements they have seen. Doctors provide their mobile numbers so that boys/girls who are too shy to ask questions in a classroom can do so more discreetly on the phone. Many boys want to know where and how they can get condoms. Even 10 and 12-year-olds ask about condoms.

The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on February 22, 2020

Stay on top of market moving news and maximize your investments! Sign UP FREE Now and get our specially curated newsletter every week.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor