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It’s A Sanitary Napkin, Not A Time Bomb: The Shaming Needs To Stop, Period

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By Lipi Mehta

In terms of size, Terminal 3 of Delhi’s airport could well parade as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There are so many ups and downs, lengths and breadths, and hardly any time to stop for the goodies. I huffed and puffed my way across the terminal, finally finding a place to sit. A middle-aged man shuffled in his seat next to me, giving me a disapproving look. “Always late, these youngsters.”

I lifted my backpack onto my lap and decided to stare at it so Uncle would feel more comfortable. I was thinking of how to while my time when I suddenly felt it. In spite of playing ‘Is it? Is it not?’ with me for days, there was no doubt about it this time. I unzipped my bag quickly and rummaged through its contents. “Phew!” I thought. Just then, Uncle caught a glimpse of what I had just shoved back in my bag and widened his eyes.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is…

menstrual taboos


As a child, I always spoke about mens-trua-tion in hushed voices and so did everyone around me. Thankfully, this changed as I grew up and soon enough, there was little reason to use euphemisms—Time of the Month, You Know What, The One Who Must Not Be Named. And that day, at Delhi airport, I strutted in confidently into the washroom, armed with my trusty Whisper Ultra.

As I took out the sanitary pad from my bag, a woman waiting for her turn at the adjoining cubicle gasped loudly. “You should have thought twice, young woman!” I looked at her, wondering whether to say something to her or not. I decided not to, but made a mental note to tell my mom. By the time we both stepped inside the cubicles, I was itching to ask my now pee-buddy, “How are you okay with me listening to this steady stream of trickle but shocked when I take out that one thing that aids one of the most natural and normal process that you and I both experience?”

Aunty was aghast even when I stepped out of the bathroom and told me with her eyes, “I know what you’ve just done.” She washed her hands and walked out swiftly. I stared at her disappearing figure for a few seconds, strongly feeling that unless more and more people (especially women themselves) speak openly about period taboos, very little will change. After a long time, I had been made aware of something normal, something I didn’t choose, something that is a symbol of my good health and something that I should never ever have to feel shame or embarrassment for.

Like many girls, the earliest such memory I have, of being made aware of having my period, is at family gatherings. Mom would blink and gesture to the other women in the room and I would hear a synchronized chorus of “Aahs” and “Oohs” followed by knowing and approving nods. Charming. Another one that I distinctly remember is of the time when I was 15. During a football match, a teammate screamed to me, “Stay free! Stay free!” only to hear a boy loudly say, “Secure!” behind my back. I wanted to hug all my girlfriends and say, “We are in this together.” (Also probably the first time I wanted to punch a boy.)

I guess the least young girls expect (and so did I) is to not be made aware of this as much as be told about it in an informed way. For instance, there are so many questions that demand answers. In Bossypants, Tina Fey quotes a ‘My First Period Kit’, that she was gifted when she was young. A girl called Pam asks, “I finally got my ‘friend’ today!! Yay!! It’s about time!! If I roller-skate while I am MEN-STRU-HATING, will I die?” Well no Pam, you won’t. You could also wear pearly white shorts and play tennis or wear white pants and take your dog for a walk. Pam’s question is just one of the many that girls have in their mind when one day, out of nowhere, they are told that they are ‘women’ now. And if I may, what was I all this while?

Finally, as I sat in the flight (yes, we were still at Delhi airport), my head was swirling with the thoughts of Uncle and then Aunty, and about writing a piece such as this one. My thoughts were interrupted by my co-passenger who had realized that copy of the in-flight magazine was missing. When the air-hostess handed him one, he said, “This was different last week. Is this a weekly?”

“No sir,” she smiled. “It’s a monthly.”

This article was originally published here on The Reader.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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