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

Of Sweat, Semen And Menstruation: The Problematic Support For #HappyToBleed

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Shruthi Venukumar:

The Happy to Bleed campaign has brought into the mainstream discussion something that has long lived behind the rag, cushioned in layers of euphemism. It comes less than a year since the Elone-inspired campaign kicked off in India where students wrote feminist messages on sanitary napkins. It all started when the chief of an Indian temple said that women shall be allowed in the temple only after a machine is invented which can screen them for ‘that time of the month’.

Image source: Mukti Sadhna/Facebook
Image source: Mukti Sadhna/Facebook

The struggle against patriarchy continues! In the few days since the launch of the Happy to Bleed campaign, my social media feed has come out colourful with creative one-liners on a woman’s most taboo ‘chums’. Crisp, amusing and to the point, they couldn’t have gone further in painting the delightful message that a conversation is brewing. I also came across some that led to some rumination about the kind of parallels they drew. Here are some which I found problematic.

If women are screened for menstrual blood, men should be screened for ejaculated semen.”

This one here conflates menstrual blood with semen, giving it sexual tones. While there is no reason to stigmatise the natural sexual processes of the male body, it would not be correct to link a process linked to male sexual arousal to an involuntary act of the female body. This takes me back to a conversation I once had about breast-feeding in public places. A woman held, and rightly so, that it is unfair that she has to breast-feed in the toilet/washroom because that was like saying that it is all right for a baby to have its food in the toilet. Someone replied by saying that breast-feeding in public is like making people watch fellatio being performed in public. The message in quotes seems innocuous enough, and probably the writer did not intend to draw such parallels. However, the message it drives under the subconscious mind does not serve the cause of the movement.

If sweating men can be allowed entry in a temple, why not a bleeding woman.”

Here again, the intent is perhaps to call the temple authorities (and society at large) on their double standards. However, comparing menstrual blood to sweat again paints it as something dirty and thus ‘polluting’ to what is held sacred by religion. ‘Dirty’ is precisely the stereotype that menstrual blood has to break out of. There is no science to suggest that menstrual blood is any more unclean than ‘normal’ blood. (Side note: Given the long hours one has to wait and the arduous journey one has to undertake for the ‘darshan’ at the temple, nothing smells of true toil and devotion more than sweat.)

The raison d’etre for including semen and sweat in messages on the absurdity of the taboo on menstrual blood is the need to dispel myths surrounding the latter using tangible examples. That goes out further in engaging people than stubbornly taking a side, however legitimate, without stating reasons. However, logic should be examined for flaws.

A country that gushes about its freedom of religion can do so rightfully only when that right is extended to all the sexes regardless of age. It is heart-warming to see both men and women come out and question social taboos. Critically examining the voices that are on the progressive side of the struggle can only strengthen the movement.

Happy to Bleed!

You must be to comment.
  1. person

    you totally missed the point.

    1) semen, blood, sweat are bodily fluids, like urine. that is the analogy between blood and semen.

    2) the point of comparing menstrual blood and semen is also to highlight the double standard in checking “purity” – that only women are told explicitly that their “purity” will be checked. men too are not supposed to indulge in sexual activity before entering this temple. but why is there not talk of machines for men to check for their “purity”? how do temple personnel know that men haven’t indulged in anything before entering the temple and therefore don’t have semen on their hands? are they implicitly telling men that it’s ok, nobody cares about your “purity”?

    1. Malayalee

      Devotees who wish to enter the Sabarimala shrine are supposed to be on a 41 day rigorous schedule wherein they wake up early, pray, bathe in cold water in the chilly December weather, wear only black clothes, control their emotional repsonses, walk barefoot, observe dietary restrictions and ofcourse, observe CELIBACY. Eventhough devotees have an option to not become a “swami” following this rigorous schedule for the entire 41 days they are still expected to follow it as much as possible. They are also given an option to complete this 41 days schedule after visiting the shrine if they are not a 'Kanniswamy'. Through the years customs and the rigour that was attached to the 41 day schedule has been diluted liberally according to the convenience of the male devotees. Even then, among the things that are never exempted are vegetarianism and celibacy. So I wouldnt really be very offended if someone says that if women have to be screened for menstrual blood, men should probably be screened for absence of sexual activity for the 41 day period. There are rules, for both men and women, but the rules for men are ignored and circumvented. From personal experience as a woman, the 41 days of spartan lifestyle to prepare oneself for the shrine can work wonders. It is indeed detoxifying to the mind. The temple officials who are so keen on the machinery will just have to go through one round of committed 'mandalakaalam' to learn how to look at life and human beings with more respect and sense.

  2. Bhargav Darekar

    How do they tolerate Indian Goddesses in the temple for all these months?
    They are females too ????

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Astha Bhattacharya

By Devyani Singh

By Lubna Ismailee

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below