Accessibility September 20, 2020
Orikalankini is breaking the taboos around menstruation & disability
Shame, embarrassment and superstition continue to be attached to menstruation even today in large parts of India. For girls and women with disabilities, this is further compounded by the challenges of managing menstrual hygiene or accessing the information. Orikalankini is changing the narratives around menstruation through art and theatre.
In a country where non-disabled women find menstruation a challenge, imagine the plight of girls and women who are vision impaired, deaf or physically disabled. Apart from the stigma and shame surrounding the topic, there are many other barriers like accessing the right information, disabled-friendly toilets, maintaining hygiene and accessing sanitary products.
Using art & theatre to break taboos
The barriers faced by girls and women with disabilities in rural and small-town India are even more.Orikalankini is trying to change this. Orikalankini is a Hindi word that means ‘she who stains’, which in this case refers to menstrual blood and is a metaphor for family honour.
“Women are tiptoeing not to stain, and we want to normalise staining, both literally and metaphorically”, says Dr Sneha Rooh, Founder, Orikalankini. “We are changing the script to one where there is no shame. We had a group perform invisible theatre where they walked the streets of Mumbai with a purposeful stain on their clothes and recorded their experiences”.
From photo essays to poems to art, different forms are used as advocacy tools. The organisation works with people of all genders above the age of 13. “We have focused on juvenile homes, shelter homes, public schools, prisons and shelter homes for women”, explains Sneha.
Over the years, inclusion has become a core part of Orikalankini’s advocacy with fellows making disability justice a key part of the awareness programmes.
Disabled women denied sexual identity
The challenges are many, one of the main ones being that sexuality is not considered as relevant for girls and women with disabilities. “The challenge with respect to reaching organisations focusing on disability is that gender, sexuality and menstruation are thought of as not relevant to them. We face a lot of gate keeping from associations and care givers”, says Sneha.
Orikalankini is trying to bridge the gap by working in partnership with organisations in the disability rights space.
Our strategy is to get activists from the disability justice groups to train as menstrual educators and take the work forward. The community is also trained in skills like making sanitary pads with cloth, so the work carries on. – Dr Sneha Rooh, Founder, Orikalankini
Madhavi, a course coordinator at Orikalankini, admits that she had looked at disability at a textbook level until now. “Disability is one of those textbook subjects I had studied but never really thought about it in detail. After various dialogues I started thinking about disability and questioning my set beliefs and way of working”.
It also underlined the complete marginalisation of people with disabilities. “Decisions are always made for disabled people without considering or asking them”, adds Madhavi. “it’s always someone else making decisions for them. They are not included in the decision that involve them and this leads to errors”.
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