Dora is spending two months with us running workshops on every aspect of women’s health. Her workshops aim to educate women about the physical female body, including menstruation, reproduction and intercourse. The workshops also unearth the emotional and hormonal processes that a woman’s body goes through in life. Many of the topics covered in the workshops are considered to be taboo in Indian society but are fundamental to the health, safety and wellbeing of women and girls, so we’re grateful for her sharing her healthcare expertise with our students.
So Dora, what inspired you to volunteer with Sambhali Trust?
I’d been learning Hindi back home in Australia and had been to India previously and really loved it. However, I thought that this time I would really love to give something back to assist in the community somehow, so I did a lot of research on prospective NGOs that could benefit from my healthcare workshops. I decided on Sambhali Trust because of its very local grassroots approach and its predominant focus on helping women and girls and I believe educating women is a huge force for change.
What gave you the idea of leading healthcare workshops and what do you think the impact has been so far?
Well professionally I come from a healthcare background – I’m an Emergency Nurse in Australia. As my knowledge of India grew, I learnt about a lot of issues that women face in society. Many of these issues are related to poor education on women’s health subjects such as menstruation, birth control, sex and childbirth and this is why I decided to create the Women’s Health workshops. The response has been positive from the women, for example there is a lot of stigma associated with menstruation and the second workshop tackles this subject. It has been great to see women get a different perspective on this as something natural and amazing that the body does, not something unholy and dirty.
How have you overcome the language barriers covering tricky topics like menstruation, intercourse and childbirth?
I will admit that this area has been difficult to discuss, especially as topics like menstruation and sex are considered taboo in Indian culture. Even the translators find it difficult to overcome their embarrassment and translate what I’m saying during the workshops. I’ve been able to overcome this with my own Hindi language skills - although limited - help me to communicate my message to the students. The other handy tactic I employ is humour - often physical humour breaks the ice in the room and then the women feel free to discuss these topics more openly.
Tell me something that you’ve discovered through leading the workshops.
I have discovered how strong and funny and intelligent the women here are, how they endure sometimes very difficult circumstances with humour and insight. I’ve realised that the human body and what it does transcends language barriers, we are all interested in the human body because we all live in one. Also the women here want to learn about their bodies, they want to understand, and I love that.
What are your plans for the future?
I will sadly have to leave Sambhali in the first week of April, but I will leave my resources here so my program can continue to be used to assist the women and girls. I will go home to Australia and continue working in Emergency, however I’ve realised that I enjoy being an educator and so hope to move my career into an area of health education.
THE WORKSHOP CALENDAR:
Workshop 1: Female anatomy, puberty and menstruation
· Basic anatomy of the female body and reproductive organs
· Puberty, menstruation and the taboos in Indian culture on these topics
· Discussion on personal experiences
Workshop 2: Sexual Intercourse
· Explanation of intercourse and asking why do humans have sex?
· Sexual health: STDs, birth control, illness etc.
· How it’s viewed in their society and discussing domination issues
This is the most challenging workshop for translators and students because of the taboo surrounding sex in Indian society.
Workshop 3: pregnancy, childbirth and raising children
Pregnancy and childbirth
· Explanation of fertilisation and the stages of development
· What you can expect from pregnancy, both emotionally and physically
· Giving birth: labour and its stages, what can go wrong during and afterwards for you and the baby.
· Stages of child development 0-2 years and then onwards in increments
· Children’s health Nourishment Solid foods
· Risks associated with raising children
· Teenage years and safety
Workshop 4: menopause, aging and society’s devaluation of older women
· The stages, symptoms and treatments, what it means and why it happens
· Aging and society’s devaluation of women after the menopause
· Life as a widow and how Indian women are often shunned socially as a result