To have conversations, especially difficult ones, it is important to create a safe space, where children are not judged and have the confidence to speak about things on their mind. I have often seen such a platform becoming an area of catharsis for them. In my current class in grade 8, we have had discussions around a large spectrum of topics including sexual orientation, evolving concept of beauty, gender stereotypes, secularism, love and crushes, a worry shared and many more.
More often, the conversation threads are triggered by a particular experience of the student and often lead to a specific initiative. ‘The Box. Period’ is one such initiative.
One day, two girls of my class frantically came up to me and posed a simple question – ‘Why do we not have sanitary pads in the class?’ They had searched the entire school for pads without any success and hence this request, which seemed like a demand.
Though a tad surprised, I posed a counter and asked them that they can come to the staff room and collect the pads when needed. They stuck to their demand of easy and convenient access of the pads. I sensed an opportunity to have a conversation with a hope of some significant change. I told them that it needs to be taken to the class community for its agreement if we have to implement the idea. We decided that before we take it to the entire class (the school being co-ed), we will have a meeting with the girls to assess their comfort with the idea. In the circle time with the girls, the two pitched the idea. While the majority agreed, we saw discomfort raised by two-three students and they were categorical that they will not be comfortable taking pads in the presence of the boys in the class.
The idea had taken root and I was seeing the tiny seed starting to sprout. The girls took it upon themselves to convince the three girl students about the concept. And they did it! Next step – taking the idea to the boys. I was amazed and impressed by the conviction of the girls and the fact they were extremely confident that the class boys will be able to handle it well. One point they kept reiterating was about the ‘Growing Up’ workshops held in the school and students are aware of these things.
Now instead of the two girls, there were sixteen girls talking about the need to have the box with pads in the class.
During the class circle time, I played the Devil’s Advocate giving logical and some illogical reasons for why we should not have the box. I wanted them to be very convinced about the idea as I was sure that if we did something like this, it would be talked by other students in the class, possibly the school, parents… in a taboo ridden society where menstruation is still a stigma that women continue to face.
Of course, when the box was introduced in the class of 13-year old students for the first time, a few boys looked a little stunned, some were giggling, a few looked away and a handful looked at the box and the contents inside. In the end, the battle was won as the boys agreed to have the box in the class even as the three girls who were earlier not comfortable joined in to articulate the need to have the box. Now the class as a community understood why it was important to have the box in the class. We also ensured that the box should remain relevant for the boys in the class and it was decided that the boys will take the responsibility of restocking the box and the boys took up this task with enthusiasm.
What was equally important in this journey was to ensure that we continue to have relevant conversations around this topic to make the topic of menstruation and sanitary pads in the class as a complete non-issue like the other things in the class like chalk, duster, etc. We cheered, like the rest of the country, when the GST on sanitary pads was brought down to 0%; we had animated discussions about customs in some parts of India which celebrated when girls entered puberty; we had questions about why the leading sanitary pads brand was called ‘Whisper’ and not ‘Scream’ or ‘Yell’.
The class started calling the box, the Pink Box, another gender stereotype. Then there was a small mishap as the box broke creating another small opportunity to break the gender stereotype. Agreeing that the earlier name was reflective of a gender bias, the class decided to name the new box as simply – ‘The Box. Period’.
As my class started breaking out of this taboo, I have seen instances which fill me with pride. During a class trip, it was one of the boys who remembered to carry a pack of pads for the girls. It was heartening to see a message from the 13-year boy’s mother mentioning how the boy decided to go to the medical store on his own to buy the pads. And the icing on the cake – the boy decided not to carry the pad in the black polythene bag, like we are used to, but in a transparent bag. Let the world know and I care a damn! The boys in the class are aware that the pads in ’The Box. Period’ box are ‘Whisper Pink’ and when it is time to refill, that’s the one that is brought.
Another instance was when the class shared this initiative with the rest of the teachers in the school. The girls mentioned that next time when they are menstruating during the PE class, they will not be shy and mention that they are not well but simply say that they are on their periods.
As a class teacher, I feel pride in the conviction of these children and the change they are effecting in the class, the school, the parent community and hope it spreads further.
And finally to steal a line from Airtel’s ad – Baat Karne se hi Baat Banti Hai
Janani Iyer With over 20 years of rich experience in a wide variety of schools, Janani became interested in concepts like circle time, storytelling, classroom management, creating engaging classroom for children, building cohesive class communities, etc to help children express their conflicts and develop confidence.
Over the past 10 years, Janani has been practicing and teaching
how the circle time approach can enhance the emotional wellbeing amongst adults & children, raising self-esteem and creating classroom community of constructive relationships.
Janani has been conducting workshops for teachers in various schools like The Shri Ram Schools, Mother’s International School, Heritage School, St Mary’s and Cambridge Schools to name a few.
She currently teaches History at The Shri Ram School, Gurgaon.