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Women, Explore Your Options For Menstrual Hygiene

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Gone are the days in Kerala when menstruation was hush-hush. For many it might still be distasteful and gruesome to talk about, but we are seeing a lot more men, and a few women step into this bloody arena. Aditi Mittal’s hilarious stand-up comedy on sanitary napkins and articles on menstrual cups have been doing the rounds in the media. This article is an attempt to paint the whole picture.

Why Talk About Menstruation?

As women, we have been conditioned over the years to not speak – be it about what happens to our bodies or our minds. What gets tricky is that our biology does not understand silence and expresses its discomfort in ways we cannot deal with secluded in our bathrooms. Our bodily functions transcend social constructs of gender and propriety, thankfully. Menstruation is an innate cycle of life that requires basic understanding of our anatomy and body responses. To avoid any distortion of reality, we have seen the ancients try in their best Brahmanical capacity to define the monthly cycle.

Fortunately, a few scientific studies to shift perspectives have come up in the recent decades, attributing only as much importance to menstruation as “asked” for. Conditions like premenstrual syndromes (PMS), polycystic ovarian syndromes (PCOS), uterine infections and cervical cancers are now medically documented and treatable. Yet unless an illness is diagnosed, the daily ordeals of menstruation are still very much neglected.

Keep Bleeding, Love

From menarche to menopause, a woman may undergo around 450 periods in her lifetime, which is over 1,800 days of bleeding (roughly four and a half years). There are cramps, spotting, leakage and headaches, to cite the least of all the problems. Mood swings and lacklustre aside, current menstruation issues also pose health and environmental concerns making the matter more complicated.

The most widely used products that have been made available easily are disposable sanitary napkins (DSNs). They used to come in simpler forms, where the plastic could be easily stripped off from the absorbent filled cotton inside, and disposed off separately. With all sorts of innovation that DSNs could have lived without, we now see compactly layered materials that can survive natural disasters themselves.

Women who say no to DSNs get labelled as privileged elitists or tree hugging hippies, who if are incidentally unmarried or without children, then also get looked down upon for not understanding “real women” challenges. While I respect the roles we juggle and march on with, those are all choices we have made ourselves, in most instances. Such choices are sadly lacking in our market shelves.

different products used during periods by women.
Image credits: Flickr/Elisabeth Steger

Cups, Pads And Everything In Between

Here is a short list of available product options for women, currently in markets and with online retailers.

External devices

Disposable Sanitary Napkins


  • Use and throw convenience
  • Readily available
  • Competitively low prices


  • If used for longer hours can cause itching and rashes.
  • Bad smell due to presence of toxic chemicals that mix with menstrual blood.
  • Disposal is very difficult, interlocked layers with body fluid cannot be separated and hence cannot, be disposed with plastic waste or organic waste and ultimately end up in landfills/drainage system.
  • Toxic chemicals like dioxins are detected in some products, which is an endocrine disrupting hormone and persistent organic pollutant, with serious health effects.

Biodegradable Sanitary Napkins


  • Can be shredded and composted
  • No toxics in contact with vaginal area
  • Eco-friendly


  • Products still in innovation stage
  • Weak supply chain
  • Plastic material still has to be discarded separately

Cloth pads (stitched)



  • Has to be washed and dried in sunlight, or dried with dryers
  • Needs proper maintenance to avoid leakages
  • Socio-economic barriers and taboos prevent beneficial use for rural women

Insertion devices



  • Easily disposable
  • Plastic components minimal
  • Absorbs more volume of blood


  • Limited availability in stores
  • Expensive
  • Health risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome due to absorbing nature of product
  • Bleached cotton directly in contact with vaginal area

Menstrual cups


  • Material made from sterile medical quality silicon with minimal chance of bacterial growth/infection
  • Inert and doesn’t alter vaginal nature like pH
  • Blood can be collected and emptied in latrine/wash basins in 6-10 hours
  • Activities like swimming can be done without hassle
  • Lasts with proper maintenance for 5-8 years


  • High one time cost for buyers
  • Not a profitable business model for producers
  • Needs to be sterilized at least once in a cycle
  • Stigma related to “hymen” prevents unmarried women from using it

What Is Stopping Us?

Limited awareness in these topics is a big challenge and formal spaces for women to express themselves openly are still absent, except in print media. However, there are a few Facebook groups that are only-women, like Sustainable Menstruation India, Menstrual Cups and Cloth Pads (India), with membership of around 10,000 that are taking questions and discussing menstruation matters. In open forums it is ironic that a lot of male-deniers make their way into these groups challenging the authenticity of cups or the need for such spaces and often put women down for sharing their experiences so openly.

On the other side, health practitioners, including women gynaecologists, are still uncertain about the wide variety of the latest trends and innovations in menstrual hygiene products and often give out inaccurate information to concerned women.

When a woman’s choice of a product has such immense consequence over health, society and environment, it fails me why we, collectively, still ignore the need to demystify and remove the taboo around such conversations. Product availability and businesses are still predominantly a man’s world, which dictate the choices that we are given in terms of our bodies’ needs. For this to change, we women ourselves need to come forward, shed inhibitions (like how our uterine linings do with so much beauty every month) to engage and educate people around us. For as long as there is silence, there stands no hope for our collective futures.


Image credits: Flickr/cheeseslave

You must be to comment.
  1. Shradha Shreejaya

    Thank you YKA team for featuring it. To add clarity to the context behind “to avoid any distortion of reality, we have seen the ancients try in their best Brahmanical capacity to define the monthly cycle”, please read further at
    What they ended up achieving was to create more myths and taboos around it with the notions of impurity attached by their beliefs.

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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, 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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