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‘.
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!