This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shambhawi Vikram. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘Come And See The Blood On My Skirt!’

By Shambhawi Vikram:

As a twenty something, when one is taken in a corner and asked by an otherwise warm aunt as to why she was not informed about the blood flowing between one’s legs so she could assign the right inches in her pristine house which could be safely stepped on, the violence is always felt anew, even after ten years of dealing with this reality. When a friend’s stained uniform in school becomes the sight of curious gossip in groups that are clearly gendered, it is violence against the girl who is only beginning to grapple with the new potential of her body. When a 14 year old classmate’s idea of a joke is to leave a sanitary napkin on the chair of a female teacher, and when this joke clearly embarasses all the girls in the class, it becomes clear that menstruation is a ‘private‘ affair and a burden they must carry alone. When this joke manages to remind a working woman, supposedly emancipated, that menstruation is her gruesome reality, it becomes a cruel way to keep her in her ‘rightful place‘.

pads against sexism protest delhi

Menstruation is a bodily function that almost half the population of the world experiences every month (and it is not restricted to biological females only), it obviously is the worst kept secret in the world. From the pharmacist who hands down pads wrapped like they are drugs, to mothers who want to be reported to as soon as one’s menstrual cycle begins (just so she knows that her virginal daughter is not pregnant) and aunts who want to save their pickles and grandmothers who would not have her overcrowded temple defiled, a young girl must navigate all this and more just so she can bleed every month for the coming significant years of her life. It is amazing how this reality is handed down to both genders, generation after generation, packaged in myths. This myth making business further contributes to the miscommunication between genders and is rendered in language and behavioural patterns encoded in sexism, rape being the most grotesque manifestation of it.

As pads with messages started appearing in Germany, Jamia, DU and JNU, a unique combination of street art and a guerrilla styled cultural protest, it grabbed eyeballs and a ridiculous show cause notice for it’s shock value. Most passer bys were heard remarking on this use of sanitary napkins and attributing it to a few feminists-gone-crazy, and clearly, the message was lost. The use of sanitary napkins in a manner such as this is important because in a culture where menstruation and menstrual products are constantly invisibilized, it is important to bring them out in the public discourse. People need to be comfortable with the fact that as they walk down the streets, there are women walking around wearing sanitary napkins and tampons fixed firmly so that not a drop leaks out; as they sit in classes there are people who have blood trickling down their vaginas and it may or may not affect her demeanour, her mood or her ability to solve a mathematics problem! And no, this blood is not impure or unclean in any manner. This is precisely the kind of discourse that tries to reify women’s body by reducing her merely to her womb, wherein her sexuality must be curbed, her body and person either raised to the divine (render her sexless) or cast her as a whore (demeaning and conveniently eroticising her). It is this discourse that reduces a woman only to her reproductive roles and thus conveniently discriminates against her with menstruation being the most obvious and ugly reminder of her fertility.

Taking forward the protest that saw sanitary napkins appearing on the streets, a bunch of students at DU plan to take this further on the 10th of April. We plan to carry pads, tampons and other products (taxed by a government that otherwise continues to remain apathetic and fails to provide sustainable menstrual care to scores of women who still cannot afford even a sanitary napkin and must resort to using sand wrapped in a dirty piece of ‘re-usable’ cloth), and we plan to carry them around proudly. We will try to demystify the taboos and create a healthy, sustained debate around menstrual hygiene and reproductive health which becomes all the more important in times when sex education is denied but provided for amply in myths and stereotypes. We want to scream out these ‘secrets’ which must not remain a burden on menstruators alone as we march past the hostile streets, the pharmacies and authorities, past the temples and kitchens, past the markets and the classrooms showing the world the ‘messy’ business that menstruation is!

For the freedom to bleed red!

For more details on the March: https://www.facebook.com/events/872641072781406/873003762745137

Pads Against Sexism that started in Jamia Milia Islamia University has found momentum in Jadavpur University and now in Delhi University – against rising sexism in our society. You can read more such stories from campuses across India at Campus Watch, and #RaiseYourVoice!

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  1. Ritesh Anan

    “Shock and awe (technically known as rapid dominance) is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power, dominant battlespace awareness and maneuvers, and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.” – (source- wikipedia)

    Let me first congratulate you for taking the debate about menstrual hygiene forward, your intentions are noble and inspirational and what you and scores of others are trying to do good for a ‘particular section’.

    Why I say ‘particular section’? Because this act will surely draw praises from people like me (like I did in above para). And what do I mean by people like me?
    I mean the educated, urban (to some degree semi-urban), middle-classes and above, elite

    So here we have defined a set, which comprises of a particular sample of population. India, as I guess you might be aware of, is home to 120 crore+ population.

    Try gauging the MAXIMUM number of people in India you can fit into the above mentioned set. For the sake of argument, lets say you are confused about the exact number, well choose the highest of them.

    2 crores, 5 crores, 10 crores, 20 crores? Even though I consider 20 crores too big a number to fit in the set I defined above lets go with it.

    So 20 crores people (who are lets say ‘pro-menstruation’ already) will see your point in marching with pads and tampons.

    However, the other 100 crores aren’t, they don’t talk about it, consider it a ‘secret to be kept’. You have to understand that these people even refrain from mentioning ‘menstruation’ (and its synonyms). So, when they see a bunch of people walking with pads and tampons, what do you think will be their reaction?

    I tell you, the initial reaction regardless of who they are and in which part of India they live will be ‘shock’. Why shock? Because they have never see a bunch of young people do something like this before.

    The military doctrine of ‘shock and awe’ as mentioned above works only when certain criteria are met. What are those criteria? Read the first paragraph again. Unless you meet EACH of those criteria it doesn’t work and what happens when shock and awe doesn’t work? IT BACKFIRES

    How? By causing the enemy’s (patriarchy) perception of battlefield to remain intact and INCREASING ITS WILL TO FIGHT.

    Military Doctrines and strategies are pretty useful if you are planning a war. In a war it doesn’t matter who’s right, who’s wrong or whose intentions are noble. What matters is understanding your enemy and creating a strategy based on that.

    There are ways in which you can make the enemy lose, but sometimes idealism and the deep urge to ‘go for a war’ overtakes objectivity, which is so very important in creating a strategy.

    1. ItsJustMe

      you know the reaction of people when they first saw a brown man stand up against a gora? Or the first time a hindu married a muslim (which is still a surprise for many i agree). There should be a first time for everything and society may be hell bent against it. But if women are truly comfortable letting people know more about it, then the movement will win. We cannot sit in an armchair and judge the result of a revolution. It will depend on how it relates to the people

    2. Ritesh Anan

      @ItsJustMe –

      According to many, why reading history is so important is because it teaches you mistakes made by others and not make those mistakes again.

      There are numerous ways in which I can refute “We cannot sit in an armchair and judge the result of a revolution. It will depend on how it relates to the people”. However, I won’t do so because if you are smart, which I BELIEVE you are, you will understand the reasoning behind my first statement.

      Boom and busts happen routinely in stock markets, the Great Depression of 29′, the crash of 87, the economic crisis of 2007-08 and the reason economists, investors including Warren Buffett believe they will continue to happen is because one generation fails to learn from mistakes of other generation, they do the same mistakes of greed and fear and everytime the result is the same.

  2. ItsJustMe

    I would have loved to see issues like why menstruating women are not allowed to enter temples and why they cannot take part in auspicious ceremonies when they are menstruating. I mean if it was god who created all, and he considers everyone equal, why wouldn’t he understand its just blood vessels and cervical wall and nothing more.

  3. Like I Give A Shit About You Fake Modern Feminists.

    Masterbating, urinating, taking a dump are also biological processes. But that doesn’t mean we have to shove it up other people’s faces. You have turned feminism into a joke.

    1. Vid

      frankly speaking, I think it is the lack of this sensitization in people why India is experiencing such a cultural chaos now. Men are becoming weaker and women are becoming manly. The basic gender roles are being reversed but you cannot fight with nature. This is not feminism here, she is talking about a taboo topic (obviously taboo in India). That is why men lack even basic respect for women out here, coz they do not understand female biology and psychology. They are like – why women are so special , why can’t a man beat a woman etc. Truly pathetic. Don’t expect India to become a ‘developed’ or ‘modern’ country without ever resolving these basic human issues even the ones you mentioned in your comment. See men shamelessly standing anywhere and peeing in front of whole public. That’s Indian culture !!

  4. Vid

    I think most of the sexism is in our country because men do not know what women go through in their lives. That’s why men think it is ok to make fun of menstruation and pregnancy. Most men do not even ever know how a baby is actually born (which is sad and shocking at the same time). And so far women never felt the need to sensitize them. The physical and mental pain is exhaustive and is definitely no joke. I really appreciate the writer’s guts and views here. The message is clear. Till people do not take steps to sensitize people, it will still be a taboo to talk about periods or pregnancy. Women will always be considered ‘dirty’. In this context, I really feel that sex education should be given from school. And why I think men should also be taught about it coz then only they will better be able to understand female psychology and give women human status which is almost absent in India.

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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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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