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This Response To The Instagram Image Of A Menstruating Woman Frankly Worries Me

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By Abhishek Jha:

Instagram taking down Rupi Kaur’s photograph of a menstruating woman shows one thing clearly. It means that we, as a society, find a discussion on menstruation in the public domain uncomfortable. And therefore, Instagram was not correct in removing the photograph.

Photo Credits
Photo Credits

Menstruation has been viewed as polluting and impure for centuries now. Women are stopped from entering places of religious worship during periods and at times prevented from even worshipping in their own homes. No matter how much my sister and I try to convince my mother that she should not be dictated by these patriarchal norms, she does not relent. Rupi’s photograph, by bringing this uncomfortable conversation to the fore, challenges these norms and is to be commended for that.

Kuntala Lahiri Dutt, an academic from Australian National University, says that “by framing menstruation as an ailment of the body in need of ‘sanitising’ and remedying, those who do not use the mainstream hygiene practices are seen as deficient and lacking. I argue that the MHM initiatives serve two economic functions: they facilitate the access by multinational corporations to a new and emerging market and present the relentless work by the female body as the norm.” This explains that there can be larger implications of keeping menstruation a taboo. A whole profiteering business itself can be run by exploiting this situation.

However, it was the response to Rupi’s photograph that interested me more. The #PadsAgainstSexism campaign that was started in some Indian campuses following a similar one abroad, was completely in line with feminist ideas. Sanitary pads were put up on campus premises with messages against sexism, thus not only fighting rape or eve-teasing but also the taboo surrounding sanitary pads and menstruation. So I felt perplexed when a defence was mounted for Rupi Kaur’s project by portraying the womb as “divine” and by citing that menstrual blood was considered “holy” by older civilisations.

I find this defence problematic because it might undo the work that the photograph alone does. Menstrual blood and menstrual cycle are still celebrated and worshipped in the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati and it has done nothing to improve the situation of women there. The valorisation, as a friend put it when I discussed this with him, of the menstrual cycle is just as much harmful as the taboo. I think that this valorisation tries to hijack how a woman must portray her menstruation to reinforce patriarchal norms. We need to, before we accept this divine worship of the womb, ask whether this will free women of their oppression. Does it mean, for instance, that owing to their divinity women must bear this experience cheerfully and without complaint and go on working? That would perpetuate the very practices which one is trying to stop when one is trying to talk about it as just another biological process.

Also, do you remember that in the movie Gangs of Wasseypur, Durga has a problem with being made into a “child-bearing machine” by her husband? The husband, Sardar Khan, tries to placate his wife by trying to convince her that the child in her womb is love itself. This is even more interesting if you remember that earlier Durga does not have a problem with having an affair with Sardar, who is a married man. By giving pregnancy another sort of divine status- by making it a part of love- Sardar expects her wife to not mind being a “child-bearing machine”.

It is important that we be cautious when biological differences are highlighted. It is by laying stress on these differences and naming them that a lot of oppression thrives. Therefore, it is necessary that we think more when we are trying to fight sexism and patriarchy, so we don’t fall prey to its own traps.

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  1. TheSeeker

    Are you kidding me with this article… you all just need a spark….

    1. Ritesh Anan

      @TheSeeker – Kuch bhi chalega 🙂 I mean for all the voices of dissent against that picture, including how pooping, peeing or cum pics would have been equally gross. The author chooses to conveniently ignore them and rather focuses on one that doesn’t hold the ground much and can be bashed easily.

      And the inglorious attempt to connect Hinduism subtly to the topic, wow!! until and unless you don’t do that, it ain’t journalism anymore 🙂

      BTW, YKA I never saw an article on how the Nun gangrape in Bengal over which such hue and cry was made, was actually committed by Bangladeshi Extremist, not ‘right wing hindu fascists’ as some people were desperately hoping it to be !

    2. Avinesh Saini

      How dare you say such vile things against Abhishake Jha, the pride of sexist IIT Roorkee.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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