Jharna Singhal is a student of law, a feminist and a menstrual educator. She has been actively involved with a number of communities in starting and continuing conversations about processes and experiences of menstruation, taboos and sustainability. She is a fellow with the YP Foundation, an intersectional, feminist and rights-based organisation working to protect, promote and advance young people’s rights. An associate at Rangeen Khidki Foundation, which works in the field of gender and sexuality, sexual and reproductive health rights, mental health and education in rural and urban spaces. She is also an Ecofemme ambassador, a women-led social enterprise founded in 2010 which produces and sells washable cloth pads and works in menstrual education. Jharna works with the Antahakarana Group, which is a mental health advocacy group as well.
Jharna’s work revolves around her passion for education and safe spaces. In college, she was introduced to menstrual cups by a friend. As she made the switch to the sustainable alternative, she found herself to be more open to conversations and discussions about menstruation and its experiences with this friend. She realised she wanted to be this person for others too and create safe spaces for the often stigmatised topic.
With her work as a menstrual educator with various communities, Jharna Singhal first focuses on the education of processes and myths rather than the topic of sustainability. Jharna has worked with adolescents, older women, prison inmates and sex workers who are in the occupation through generations and have been empowered by NGOs. One thing she hopes for is the openness of conversations. Upon her interaction with various communities, she has realised the lack of discussion around menstruation. However, she understands the importance of truly gaining insights from the community and catering to their needs rather than having a one size fits all model.
Working With Communities
A typical involvement with the community for Jharna has a crucial aspect of creating safe spaces. Over time, she has observed that one session alone does not make the difference. She finds it crucial to be available to the women she’s involved with to discuss their experiences and make them feel safe to share and learn more about menstruation. At first, it is not easy to break the ice about the taboo. When there is a breakthrough, a sole session does not guarantee acceptance of new information and its dissemination.
However, this breakthrough does not come from technicalities—“For any information shared to be meaningful, I try to pose questions and logically dismantle closely held beliefs. I do not think it would be useful to jump right into the science of cycles and the blood since that would not prove relatable,” Jharna asserts. This safe space extends to women sharing their experiences of menstruation, childbirth and violence that they may have faced but do not talk about them often. These sessions become intimate, vulnerable and often teary-eyed, and that result in more than just a passive education but a space to speak, share feelings and traumas and to feel less alone in one’s experiences.
From menstrual education, Jharna Singhal moves towards conversations about sustainability. Reusable products for menstruation are becoming an important topic as the waste being generated by disposable pads and tampons is filling up the landfills located at the outskirts of major cities. These non-biodegradable products are also primarily made out of materials which are not very suitable for long time contact for the skin. Cloth pads and menstrual cups are gaining ground, as more sustainable as products, which can be reused for a longer period of time.
However, Jharna firmly believes that when one talks about sustainability, the context is extremely crucial. Cloth pads and menstrual cups which require washrooms with a steady supply of water is not an easily available source for many. This problem figures prominently in some rural and urban areas. In urban areas, she discusses, middle and upper-middle-class people pose another problem. The habit of using disposables and throwing away things which seem impure or polluted is quite rampant with the urban elite. Additionally, it is quite common to see people express their distaste and anxiety towards menstrual cups and the myth of virginity that they are shrouded in. Sustainable menstruation needs a lot of discussion and accessibility in India.
What Can Be Done?
Jharna Singhal believes that it is important for a lot of structural changes to take place as well, along with discussions. Education should be our topmost priority where we discuss health, challenge the stigma, provide reliable information and work on an inclusive vocabulary to include all menstruators. Accessibility to products is also extremely crucial for safe and hygienic periods. She believes that products should be free for all and considered an essential item. Lastly, she advocates for a better healthcare system. Hospitals in rural and urban spaces should be accessible to all menstruators with sensitivity training for doctors while being affordable.