Devika Jayssell Young Researcher, Social Analyst & Passionate Dancer
A post-graduate from IIT Gandhinagar in Society & Culture and a graduate in International Relations & Political Science from the Central University of Kerala. Dedicated social worker & program coordinator with a strong commitment in serving women, disadvantaged youth & elderly, including homeless, emancipated & special need populations. She believes in rational caste-less society who work hard to make abstract ideas into novel innovations with the attitude of 'Live & Let Live'. At ATREE CERC she is coordinating with the project, 'Synthetic pad free Muhamma panchayat. Coordinating the project community enhancement in terms of women empowerment with the activities of the social innovation lab. Conducted and delivered 25 plus awareness classes, campaigns related to Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene Management and Taboos in educational institutions, various organizations and at community level. Has presented and published papers in both National & International conferences. Awardee of best paper presentation in an International conference on Women Studies.
It was an interesting journey and still an interesting one that made me to the present bold empathetic version of myself. I haven't traveled much but this is the journey that everyone should start at any phase of our life to make it worth. The places, the people everyone had their own stories and i would like to share the ones that still makes me to vibrate my heart with so much of pleasure & satisfaction. One among it was with the Perinad Buds School which dedicated their whole life for the betterment of differently able students. With the internship of Gulmohar Foundation, i met them for the very first time and it was the life changing moment that makes me to smile from within. When they shared their small naughty complaints, friendship and love with me i became so much attached to those students because of their innocence, selfless love towards fellow beings. I was even happy to create the first skill book model for them as they surprised me with their extra- ordinary talents. Each of my birthday was also so special with the happiest moments i used to spend with the cancer centers and the old age homes which is known to me. This even made me to volunteer with those organizations at any time of needy and betterment of their living conditions. Since my interest areas always aligned so close with society, women & Gender, Tribal life and policy making i also prefer to be engaged with all these areas throughout my life. This made me to do my pg thesis on Menstrual Taboos in Kerala context too. During my pg in IIT, i got an internship opportunity to work with ATREE, an environmental organization. Their project was under the theme Vembanand Wetland Conservation & thereby constitutes many projects connecting various aspects of community & ecosystem conservation. i was assigned with waste management & Menstrual Hygiene Management Project. Both of the projects had given me a coherent understanding about the underlining pillars of a grass root level development activities. The canal cleaning initiate has revealed the damaged we humans have caused to the water bodies & ecosystems in the form of dumping of waste. And in Mupparithod Canal (Alappuzha), this menstrual waste has been accumulated which damaged the entire species habitat in that area. This project was thus initiated from the waste management project. As a woman, that news was so shameful for me and since my keen interest area also lies here, i decided to work further to make any possible change that i could bring for the betterment of community. Later by entering my first career as the programme officer in ATREE to work for the same project along with community enhancement & livelihood management i understood the pulse of community people. With the reports of the Health Department too, i realized the increasing number of cancer, Uterus removal, irregular periods, PCOD cases in that area. Then the focus of the project has changed and given equal importance to health & environmental aspects. When i entered to the broad area of Menstruation, besides recognizing the customs, traditions and the religious factors i became more keen on the health and environmental factors of menstruation through sustainable practices. Since this is the topic which is secretly managed, i understood the need to take it to public forums and make women aware about their body, health and methods to keep it hygiene all the time. Since i am the victim of the health issues caused by improper management of menstruation & Menstrual Products, i insisted each person that come in contact with me to know about Menstrual Hygiene and how badly it can affect each person and the Environment. Thus from the head girl of my school now i have successfully became the part of the prestigious event, "Declaring Muhamma as the first synthetic pad free village panchayat in India". i have presently won the smiles and happiness of many people through whatever possible ways i could make them aware about their health, their community and finally their strengths too.
I started my journey of volunteering since my school days even before recognizing the true mean of being a volunteer. But still I remember those initial days as how happy I was by being surrounded with a lot of people. And this is my inspiration too. Being alone and locked up inside four walls of my house is what makes me frustrated. And I believed I really got happiness and satisfaction when I received a smile with full of love from others who heard me, trusted me and finally was there with me. When this feeling of hope and satisfaction is created in our fellow being's mind through our actions (more than words), that is the time we became the real leader or volunteer in our life.
VOLUNTEERING FOR ME
I considered volunteering as a guiding light of hope for someone whose face reflects helplessness & dilemma. It is one way of recognizing ourselves and gives real essence to our existence as humans. For me it's the best way to understand my fellow beings, pulse of the society and to analyse social issues from all aspects. As all of this makes me to a real human with empathy, care and love and thus encourages me to spread a smile of positive vibe to everyone that surrounds me.
Synthetic Pad free Village Panchayat Muhamma under Muhammodayam
ATREE CERC (Community Environmental Resource Center) of ATREE.
MISSION & VISSION
The project address Menstruation in different aspects. It focuses on tackling the menstrual waste accumulation that generates various health and environmental problems. It had initiated the movement cum objective of 'Declaring Muhamma Gram panchayat at the first synthetic pad free village panchayat in India' by making the women to switch into alternative sustainable practices of menstruation thereby fulfilling the hygiene aspect of menstrual practices and products too. Through all this aspects the project had redefined menstruation through the present problem analysis and health issues of women related to menstruation and how it had paved the way of environmental degradation.
Menstrual taboos and stigmas are the underlying part of traditional customs in Kerala (India). Menstrual Hygiene Management has never been a topic of discussion due to the existence of social, religious and cultural restrictions as a significant barrier. The thought on ‘menstruation’ is either the thought of ‘menstrual products or religious taboos’ for the conventional community. Lack of systematic monitoring, improper knowledge on environmental issues and limited access to worldly issues has created a narrow paradigm amidst the villagers of Kerala. Muhamma village (Kerala) being on the banks of Vembanad lake (Ramsar site) has witnessed pollution on large scale, with the disposal of sanitary napkins on water bodies and nearby areas that pose a threat to the fragile ecosystem in Muhamma. For proper disposal, it needs to be burned at 800 degree Celsius, which requires incinerators. There are either negligible or limited facilities for this in Kerala, with few exceptional initiates taken by some educational institutions and social organizations. Thereby people usually followed the pattern of throwing it in open spaces, burning or dumping it. These non-biodegradable napkins which contain more chemicals and plastic compositions stay in the landfills for about 800 years. Tones of these non- compostable sanitary pads are making their way into sewerage systems, landfills, fields and water bodies, posing huge environmental and at the same time health risks.
Day by day Vembanad lake is getting polluted by shaking its aesthetic appearance disturbing the flora and fauna habitats on the fragile ecosystem. Around 6000 tonnes of solid waste is produced in Kerala each day, of which Alappuzha contributes around 58 tonnes per day. A major portion of this is non-biodegradable plastic waste. The constraints like land availability, dense population and environmental fragility makes its timely disposal a major problem in these wetlands. Menstruation and the days of menstruation remains a taboo for Muhamma village women due to certain traditional menstrual customs and practices. The social stigma of talking, discussing, expressing menstruation and about menstrual products exists in this village too. One day with a canal cleaning process, tonnes of both wrapped and unwrapped pads clogged the tooth of the tractor and interrupted the whole process. When this has been visibly recognized as a social menace, then the thoughts became completely focused on addressing and treating this issue. The process and the execution were difficult and time consuming but has a significant role in changing the attitude of women on menstruation by certain changes in their habitual behavior while menstruating and towards menstrual practices. The major stakeholders include Panchayat & local bodies, ATREE, Health Department with mainly ASHA workers, CDS- ADS members, MNREG, self help groups, Educational Institutions in Muhamma under the guidance of a Senior and junior Programme Officer with two interns. From the initial survey, it was found that there are around 6000 to 8000 menstruating women in the panchayat and around 1 lakh used synthetic sanitary pads are being dumped into the landfills and water bodies. With the methods of data collection through survey, series of awareness campaigns at both community and educational institutions (classes and workshops) irrespective of gender and with the door to door activities of trained ASHA workers, this project has finally turned to the stage of declaring “Muhamma as the first synthetic sanitary pad free village in India” by replacing synthetic pads with eco- friendly alternatives. The project has been taken to the next level by focusing on the educational institutions. This was really the need of the hour as still numerous sorts of gender disparities and misconceptions exists and generate among the students which both directly and indirectly influence the social development of that regions. And to enhance the significance of sustainable menstrual practices of menstruation and to reduce the misconceptions; awareness programs were organised especially for school students in various schools and educational institutions to boost up the effectiveness of the activities in the community. The campaigns have also been extended to colleges and Universities and the students are being influenced. And this has been initiated irrespective of gender, caste and religion. And almost twenty plus awareness campaigns conducted during the period across community women, self- help groups and students. Finally with the data collection of total menstruating women, their menstrual products, reviews on using them etc, the final data was consolidated. Along with this to make the alternative products available in local shops for the community, a package of these products (cloth pads & menstrual cups) with instructions and leaflets have been distributed for sale at subsidized rate in shops and general stores. Finally on November 6th at Muhamma Panchayat Hall, Dr T. N Seema Executive Chairperson, Haritha Kerala Mission has Declared Muhamma as the first Synthetic pad free Village in India.
LENGTH OF SERVICE
The project started initially with a workshop in March 20 2019 and declaration as Synthetic pad free village was done on November 6th 2020. It is still continuing to take the reviews on the women and to collect data on the consistency of the project. I have joined the project before it was officially assigned as a project to get implemented i.e on May 2019. From may 2019 to this day am working in this project and we are planning to scale up this to other areas with appropriate modifications and support of government institutions.
ROLE IN PROJECT
Started as an intern after my studies i joined the team as the programme officer in coordinating this project with my senior. Al of the stages except the initial one was under my instructions and guidance too. I mainly focus of the awareness classes and campaigns at educational institutions i.e dealing with classes, talks and queries from primary classes to higher secondary divisions including all genders. I also worked with panchayat and local bodies in addressing this issues through gramasabha sessions, ward meetings, self help group etc. my previous experience in dealing with waste management & sanitation related ares really helped me to enhance our project. My pg thesis at IIT based of menstrual taboos & the perspectives in Kerala context also helped me to deal with the academic aspects on menstrual thereby an opportunity to redefine them with different aspects and theories.
The project made me to understand the grass root level democratic functioning of government and local bodies, better community engagement thereby understanding the nature and problems of local community, have became efficient in handling sessions and menstrual awareness classes which helped me to take approx 25 plus classes and sessions on menstruation. And also this project has refined me to one among the expert menstrual educator.
IMPACT OF PROJECT
Muhamma being a wetland village faced many anthropogenic interruptions and like all other places, menstrual waste is not even considered and treated along with other wastes. So, either women burn it or throw them to the nearby water bodies (easy to dispose). But now a transformation has taken place from basic behavioral patterns or habits to – change in systems as -Dumping of waste has turned to treatment of waste; Menstrual waste is no longer a threat; Community started accepting alternative sources thereby finding solutions to deal with menstruation. Thus, from communicating menstruation to that of dealing with it has changed which alters the lifestyle, livelihood, social institutions and even the culture of the community people. Then from the health & Hygiene Aspect, it makes the women to have a happy period without rashes, irritations etc caused by synthetic pads and development the attitude of self- care, menstrual hygiene, menstrual discussions through proper channels and awareness. The Future plan with the project is to scale up the activities to other areas especially where the ecosystem and women are vulnerable in nature. The idea of developing a cloth pad stitching unit in Muhamma is in process to make sure the accessibility of these products to local women at a lower price and as an alternative source of livelihood.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life Below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
PA P E R P R E S E N TAT I O N S & PUBL I C AT I O N S
Paper presentation and participation on Menstrual Hygiene Management: A Muhamma model at the first International Conference on Menstrual Health- The Period Junction, organized by Aarogya Seva and Maatrika, Held at Bangalore, March 2020.
Paper presentation titled “The red stigma of the green economy: Towards a sustainable approach on Menstruation on Gandhian principle” in a Two day national seminar on ‘Gandhian Principles & Environmental sustainability: Relevance & Prospects’ organized by department of political science with MG University Kottayam and institute of Parliamentary Affairs, Govt. of Kerala at NSS Hindu college, Changanaserry, Kerala, January 2020.
Paper presentation titled, “An invisible barrier in the visible transition of female education: A sociological perspective” and participation in the 5th World Conference on Women Studies under the theme: Activism, Solidarity and Diversity: Feminist Movements Toward Global Sisterhood in Thailand, conducted by International Institute of Knowledge Management, - Flinders University, Australia, The State University of New York, USA, held at Bangkok, Thailand. April 2019.
Presented paper Titled, “Tribal Feminism: A case study of Vazhachal Tribal Society” in International conference on mass communication and social sciences by IMRF, Indian Academic Research Conference Mysore 2018, and Conference of Indian Universities (CIU), New Delhi, 2018.
Published the above paper in Social Sciences International Research Journal. Volume 4. Issue 2, 2018.
Paper Presentation – Kerala History Congress, First Annual Session and International Conference, University College Trivandrum, 2016- 2017.
Nominated for paper presentation in World Research Congress, IMRF 2017.
Presented Paper in International Conference on Contemporary discourses of gender, Christ University English Department, Liverpool Hope University, UK, 2016.
Presented paper titled, “The real women: Ambiguous Perspectives” in International Conference on Women Studies and Social Sciences, Organized by International Multidisciplinary Research Foundation, Goa 2016.
Awarded as the Best Paper Presentation in the above conference on March 3-5 2016.
Published paper “The real women: Ambiguous Perspectives” in International Human Rights Journal, IMRF.
Paper Presentation – Titled, “Role of Dharma in Nation Building: Lessons from Hind Swaraj” in National Seminar on Cultural Identity and Diplomacy revising the concept of an inclusive Bharat Rashtra, UGC Centre for South Asian Studies, National Social Science Association Pondicherry, 2015- 2016.
Paper presentation- Heritage and Modernity in Kerala: The Legacy of Social Reform Movements, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, 2016.
Awardee as the Resource person by handling the session “Research & Social Change” for three-day National level Workshop on Designing Research in Social Sciences, organized by the School of Cultural Studies with Center for Curriculum Research Policy and Educational Development under Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers & Teaching (PMMMNMTT), March 2020.
Delivered invited talks, lectures and being resource person in workshops on social issues and policy plans.
Conducted and delivered 20 plus awareness classes and campaigns involving Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene Management, sex education at both educational institutions and community level.
Awarded as the Best Paper Presentation for the paper titled, “The real women: Ambiguous Perspectives” in International Conference on Women Studies and Social Sciences, Organized by International Multidisciplinary Research Foundation, Goa 2016.
Winner in Debate Competitions, State Level.
Winner in Cultural Fests.
Winner in Quiz competitions.
Winner as the best Orator, fests & competitions.
Since my interest areas mainly focuses on women & gender, tribal & vulnerable sections and policy initiates; i always like to be engaged in social activities that impact the betterment of society on a large scale. Apart from being a Civil Service aspirant i am so passionate to work on my area of menstrual hygiene management too. Its my dream to start a cloth pad stitching unit in each district with the collaboration of Haritha Kerala Mission to make the sustainable products available to all women irrespective of their limitations and also as an alternative source of livelihood for the vulnerable local village women. I would also like to make this project initiative as a national movement to make all the individuals aware about the consequences of improper management of menstrual products since 'women's health' is something that has to be highlighted due to the increasing cervical cancers, PCOD, skin rashes, fertility issues etc. Thus its time to discuss both the environmental & health aspects to make the women healthy, aware about their body, starts self- care and thereby began to focus on 'cleanliness' than 'purity' when it comes to menstruation. which is the real empowerment according to me.
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