The Nirmal Bharat Yatra - Segregation - the culprit - Menstrual hygiene training of teachers at Gorakhpur

Boys sit here, girls sit there. A rule I grew up to as well, it seemed the easiest thing to do, back in school. Girls talk more and boys are irritating, who wants to sit with them anyway. We did talk to them. We had crushes on them and vice-versa.

In Gorakhpur, at the teacher training on the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, I saw the same things at play. The only difference was we weren't children any more and these weren't children attending the training. These were adults. Teachers, to be precise.

Three cheers to social conditioning. Years of segregation have ensured that men and women without assistance keep a visible distance.  At the teacher training session, as the teachers sauntered into the classroom, the women sat close to the door and closer together, the men got comfortable at the back of the class.

Does it remind you of school days?

Why does it surprise me? Simply because these distances were supposed to blur as we get older. Clear, we don’t. We start early, in schools, making sure the boys and girls sit in clearly distinct separate lines. One for boys, the other for girls and now here as teachers they did exactly the same.

This is what they are teaching in schools, too.

What was wrong with that? In this training, one of the objectives was to break the silence around menstrual hygiene management. To have that in place, one needs to break the silence around menstruation. That’s not possible if this divide exists.

Why? For starters, even in an ideal situation, there will be a lot of giggle and shyness. In a class full of teachers, they struggled to sit next to one another.  And here we were, training them to talk openly about menstrual hygiene.

It is a good start, to talk to teachers and then to students. But, it's a plan sure to fail because the openness one needs will not come soon. Teachers need to get the students to interact with one another, a systematic segregation that is part of our school-going years doesn’t allow for that openness.  

How will that happen, when they are bound by those rules themselves? Without questioning this separation - they follow the code, unquestioning.
Even at the training, when the men and women were seated together, mid-way into the session, the men got back to join their ‘friends’ at the back of the class. Feeling uncomfortable about participating in a session that talks about 'women's issues'.

What, then, we need is a systematic integration, one where we get children – boys and girls – to interact with one another. Regularly.

That really, is the beginning. Everything else will follow seamlessly.

By Vaishalli Chandra, India Water Portal Fellow, Arghyam

For full coverage of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra by India Water Portal, click here.