Art for Change: Students highlight the importance of menstrual health using art at a three-day art exhibition in Bhubaneshwar

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is a recurrent concern faced by women and girls in developing countries. To bring attention to this issue, Menstrual Hygiene Day was instituted on May 28, 2014, and since then, it has been observed all across the world. In an initiative to educate and spread awareness about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene in Odisha, AAINA, a civil society organisation that works with vulnerable communities, conducted a three-day art exhibition at Jaydev Bhawan, Bhubaneswar.

Even though India has come a long way in dealing with menstruation – from using cotton pads, and cloths, to sanitary napkins and menstrual cups, recent NFHS data shows that 50% of girls and women in India still use cloth instead of a modern method of menstrual hygiene. Lack of proper sanitation and associated taboos have hindered healthy menstrual hygiene practices. Furthermore, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in the last two years, have resulted in girls having decreased access to menstrual health products, information and resources.

The event organised by AAINA and inaugurated by the Chief Guest, hockey player Dilip Tirkey, sought to normalise conversations about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and how to create safe spaces and platforms that provide young people in the state the opportunity to open up and share their experiences. At the inaugural event, Dr Tirkey stated, “The event is a good initiative that will help raise awareness amongst the community on the critical issue of menstruation”

Sneha Mishra, Founder of AAINA said on the occasion, “Young people have the power to bring about change in our society, and their participation in events such as this will help eradicate myths and misconceptions and social norms around menstruation.”

The theme resonated deeply with students and many colleges participated in the competition including Dhauli College of Arts and Crafts, Bhubaneswar; Kalinga College of Art, Bhubaneswar; B.K. College of Arts & Crafts & Rajdhani Higher Secondary School of Arts, Science & Commerce. The students expressed themselves via different paintings to underscore the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. A young participant from Dhaul College of Arts and Crafts shared that they had never thought about engaging with the issue or sharing their views on it publicly until they participated in the art exhibition.

Over 100 students across the state participated in the competition. And the winners were chosen by a jury consisting of eminent art and cultural personalities of Odisha, including Biren Das, Ramahari Jena, Atasi Basu, Kamala Kanta Rath, Monalisha Biswal, and Lalatendu Rath.

Mandira Kalra Kalaan, Project Lead, Baatein Unlocked, added “Events such as this are important as they provide spaces for young people to engage in dialogue around otherwise taboo and sensitive issues. It is so important that young people can advocate and articulate what their sexual and reproductive health means to them and make choices that allow them to realise their dreams and aspirations”

The event, which garnered an overwhelming response from both the participants and the visitors, was an overture to a national campaign called ‘Baatein Unlocked’. Baatein Unlocked is part of USAID’s Momentum programme which works with governments, civil and private sectors and other key partners to improve access to family planning and reproductive health services and make high-quality health care available to mothers and children so they can live healthy, productive lives. It envisions establishing safe spaces for young people to come together to talk about issues that are often silenced and considered taboo. The movement will bring together over 15 youth-centric organisations and other stakeholders in Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Jharkhand states to work towards creating a conducive environment for young people.

Also read: New Jalpaiguri-Dhaka Mitali Express flagged off

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