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‘How Did Bras And Periods Become Problems When Rape, Global Warming And Hunger Exist?’

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By Sohini Bardhan:

You know those kids who rule the classroom? With how to behave in a certain teacher’s classroom to what music and TV shows are cool? What books to read and what topics to talk about, so that you belong to the ‘in’ crowd? It’s okay. Your conscious mind might refuse to accept it (especially if you were in the ‘in’ crowd) but ask your subconscience and you’ll remember such kids in your school. These were the kids that other kids wanted to be like, they were the all-rounders, the teacher’s favourites. Good scores, good in sports, music, dance, everything. The ones who went to the birthday parties when you had to finish homework as a bargaining chip with your parents to go camping next month. Hell! They were the coolest. The intellectuals, the feminists, the leaders in the making. They could do no wrong, right? They were not weak, right? Wrong. They were humans, and more importantly they were women. Did I mention, I went to a girl’s school?

I was one of the not-so-cool people. You know, the nerdy kind, who’d be lost in the world of fantasy, with a book under the table. I was the kind who used to be the monitor, but not the cool monitor, the nerdy one. The one who would let the raucous continue in class, with warnings when it became too loud, with a book in my hand, standing at the door, so that I could warn the monkeys in my class that the teacher is coming. Yeah, that kind (It was fun, though, I did get a ‘too serious’ tag). My school had an afternoon section for boys in Classes 11 and 12.

periods1When I was in Class 7, I was as usual, having an apple and reading a book on the stairs during lunch break when I heard a girl bawling her eyes out. Now, no one cries in Class 7, except for a very serious cause. Naturally, I was worried. When I looked up, I saw that it was one of the ‘cool’ people of my batch. “Wait, what? She can cry? Must be something really bad, then” was my first thought. Don’t get me wrong. When I say ‘cool’, I mean the really nice people, not the bullies that Bollywood shows as a part of its weird Bollywood dictionary definition. The girl, I’m talking about, spread happiness wherever she went. The kind of person who’d make people laugh, who’d inspire people.

I went up to her, to ask her what was wrong. She was surrounded by a group of people and that’s when I noticed her really long skirt held at the waist by a safety pin. Still, the dimwit that I was, I asked her what happened. And the story emerged. She had her first period that day. Her skirt was stained and she’d walked in front of the boys with that skirt and they’d ridiculed her. I laughed. Wrong reaction? No. I laughed because the entire situation was very stupid to me. The fact that people who know nothing about how painful periods are, who’re literally older than us, who’ve studied about it in school, had the audacity to laugh at a girl who was helpless and could not stop what her body was biologically supposed to do. And what I found even funnier was that this girl, who went around as the messiah of the world, who inspired laughter everywhere she went was actually sad at something this stupid. We were 12-year-olds. I was yet to get my periods. Hence, I didn’t understand the depth of the matter, or rather the lack of it. At that moment, I hated those boys because they’d made such a strong person cry. I hated them for being such twats and such ridiculous heartless pieces of burnt coals who were supposed to be our seniors and mentors.

It’s only when I grew up that I realised that the boys weren’t the only ones to be blamed here. A lot many matters come into play. When you’re in high school, you laugh at what the crowd laughs, or you’re branded a jerk. You’re kids. But I digress.

menstruation periodThe inherent problem with the world today is that they taboo the most basic ambits of human behaviour or anatomy: sex, periods etc. Whereas, something like murder is freely discussed in all age groups. Periods are something we cannot help. To ostracise the taboo surrounding it, we need to start with our homes. Yes, tampon and sanitary napkin advertisements make you cringe. Good. Your next generation won’t. Men who are reading this, imagine being a girl who has irregular periods Not knowing when your uterus will finally punish you again for not being pregnant? And that one day when you change your bag and forget to carry a pad, that one day you take public transport instead of your car, that one day when you decide to wear white or yellow or any light colour; you get your period. Very hard, isn’t it? I know. What is harder is bearing the cramps, because girls with irregular periods have terrible cramps. Add to that, the worry of their clothes staining and people watching.

If only we could live in a world where this is normal, if only we could live in a world where if we stained our clothes and looked like we might be trying very hard to not die, someone would hand us a pad or give us a Meftal, or just a hot water bag or one genuine smile and tell us that it’s okay and it’s normal. Because no matter how normal it is, we still feel awkward. Don’t think that girls with regularly timed periods have it easy. No, son. One whole week they’ll probably be having terrible mood swings, one month they can be super happy, next month they might want to kill everyone and the month after? A little bit of both. And that’s just when they’re PMSing. Then comes the true torture. Waking up one morning to stained bed sheets which they have to wash, even in the midst of those terrible cramps they are having, when they’re late to office. It can’t be left alone for the day. No. Why? Because in most households, period is a taboo.

I’m lucky to have grown up in a family with feminist parents. I remember this one time when my sister was worried about her new sports bra showing from under her t-shirt. But in no way did it look indecent. It was just the folds of the cloth showing on the t shirt. And she refused to wear it to her tennis coaching that day. When she explained the reason to my mother, my mom replied with a “So?” That one word has taught me to live my life. So? Everyone knows we wear bras, everyone knows we have our periods, then why is it a problem? Hell, how is it a problem? How did cleavage and navel, bra and period become a problem when issues like rape, global warming and people dying of hunger exists?

My father buys my pads. He and my mother have always bought it for me till I was deemed old enough to go out of the house alone. And even now when I feel lazy, he gets it for me. I’d felt this to be normal because this is what I’d grown up seeing until I went to live in a hostel. It was only through conversations here that I realised what period-shaming actually is, and how much distance, fathers have with their daughters. Today some lucky few can discuss period problems with their parents. There are so many girls out there who are embarrassed to talk about their problems with their parents, embarrassed for something they have no control over.

Imagine a world where your father makes life easier for you during those dreaded five days by simple things like more ice cream in the fridge, lower television volume, random jokes so that your mood swings aren’t really that erratic? I can, because that’s my world. But there are many of us, who can’t even dream of it. Who have to deal with the cramps and the mood swings and the social ostracisation even inside the house! Oh and did I mention the weakness you feel because of all the blood outflow?

periods_odfImagine a world where we don’t have to use words like ‘chumming’ or ‘down’ and instead just say “I’m on my period.” Imagine a world where we don’t have to run around helter-skelter when our uterus betrays us in the middle of class and with raised eyebrows, mouth, ‘pad’ to our fellow female classmates or a world where we don’t have to worry about our clothes staining. Because most of the time we worry only because of what the people around us will say. Somewhere among us, a part of that cool 12-year-old girl, still resides, who’s ashamed of her period. And then people say, “You should be proud of being a woman! You are the birth giver!”

Will no one tell me to be proud of the sacrifice I make every day of my life to be able to retain the title of ‘birth giver’? Will no one acknowledge the pain I go through five days a week for years to be able to be a birth giver? Will no one let the most normal thing in my life and in the lives of one whole gender, be a normal thing in the world? Why do we need to hide? Why are we ostracised? Why is it still a taboo? Why should we suffer in silence? Why do I have to hear a, “You’ve had it all your life, don’t overdo the drama now.” You think period pain is a drama? You think blood flowing from between your legs, your back threatening to kill you, your insides kicking your stomach painfully is drama? I wish you’re born a woman in your next birth.

We don’t want recognition or accolades. All we want is some understanding and some respect. I want to thank every single man who’s been nice to a woman on her period, who has not shamed her or called her dirty and just treated it as a normal biological occurrence. Thank you, for making life simpler for us.

Period-shaming is shameful. Because what you’re shaming is what brought you to this world. What you’re shaming is one of the most normal things in this planet. You have no right to shame us for something we did not choose. Here’s the deal. Periods are normal and it exists. Keeping mum about it will not make it go away, throwing women on their period out of the kitchen or the temple will not make it go away. So suck it up and live with it like a decent human being. And if you can, please be nice. The world is in need of nice human beings. Thank you very much.

 

 

 

 

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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 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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