Pick up any 8th standard biology textbook in India. A complete chapter is dedicated to the human anatomy where the natural process of menstruation is explained as shedding of the female uterine wall, every 28 days.Yet talking about menstruation is a topic which even women shy away from.
But a woman’s period isn’t just a natural process in India. It has several cultural and religious connotations attached to it and hence complicates matters. While affordability of sanitary napkins is still at an all-time low, with almost 70% women1 stating that they can’t actually afford them, the issue also majorly revolves around attitudes.
In many rural and semi-urban areas women and girls are forced to stay in isolation while they are on their period. They are made to sleep in cow sheds or an out-house which is generally located outside the family home or on the outskirts of the villages. These huts or out-houses do not have even the basic amenities such as running water, electricity or proper beds.
Studies have shown that a shocking 88% of 355 million women in India resort to ill-sanitized cloth rags, ashes and sand to aid absorption. Only 12% use pads or other products. Almost 23% girls drop out of school after they get their period and the ones who continue their schooling, miss out 5 days every month (50 days in 1 year)1.
But the question persists, why is menstruation still seen as curse by so many? The cause lies in the age-old practices which have been passed down orally from centuries. While most of the ideas have now lost their relevance, they are still blindly followed in the name of tradition.
A recent study conducted with 1,100 respondents by Whisper and IPSOS, reveals that the stigma doesn’t just exist in the rural areas. A majority of urban women believe they shouldn’t touch the pickle or enter temples or sleep in the same bed as their husbands, while on their cycle. The male respondents were slightly more liberal, although 50% of them preferred buying a condom over a sanitary napkin.
The level ignorance is forcing women to survive in appalling conditions without proper sanitation and hygiene. This is a disastrous situation, which is perpetuated further by the silence around the issue. Commercial pads and tampons are unaffordable to a majority of women and the segment that does use these products is unaware of the huge health risk that stems from them.
Tampons or pads leave chemical residue on the inner and outer vaginal walls which can cause serious diseases such as Cancer. India accounts for 27 percent of deaths caused by cervical cancer, which is twice the global average. And the study links the cause to partly poor menstrual hygiene.3
Our initiative “#LetstalkPeriod – Gift a menstrual cup”(www.desiredwings.com/period) is working to destroy the stigma. Created by trailblazers in Woman Endangered and Stone Soup, it challenges period taboos and superstitions along with addressing the issue of human health crisis that takes root from repeated use of commercial pads or tampons over decades.
The agenda is simple:
Joining hands with the crowdfunding platform DesiredWings.com, WE and Stone Soup have launched a crowdfunding campaign where they want to raise enough funds to organize a free-of-cost distribution of menstrual cups in Azadpur in New Delhi. Looking to distribute 1,000 cups to 1,000 women or even more, they want to target the health, environment and mental crisis at the grass root level.
Menstruation health issues is probably the most stigmatized and ignored topic, even in the 21st Century. This is true for not just in the rural areas, where stigma is forced, but even in the urban setting where men and women alike, fail to question menstrual restrictions and practices.
But we have a choice. We can chose to break our silence and contributed at www.desiredwings.com/period to be a part in #Letstalkperiod campaign.
By Tarushi Varma