Given how patriarchy loves invisibilizing women and invalidating their lives and experiences, menstrual hygiene is a difficult proposition even in those near-mythical parts of the world not wound up in centuries of rituals and mores. But in India, where men mostly still control the reins of religious practices and thus dictate who can enter a temple at what time and who must be shunned during a natural bodily process, menstrual hygiene is practically unheard of even in the more ‘progressive’ parts of society. Even when people who menstruate have access to products like sanitary napkins, the government sees fit to classify them as taxable “luxury” products. This, on top of the fact that buying, said sanitary napkins is seen as a shameful, secretive process in itself – thus making it all the more difficult to acquire them. In those parts of India where such products have not yet managed to find a foothold, human resourcefulness has allowed for menstruating people to find their own homemade solutions – but not all of these are hygienic, and has resulted in deaths.
As always, patriarchy’s conditioning of men (and women) is largely responsible for this. And while women – and others who menstruate, like trans men and non-binary folks – should undoubtedly be at the forefront of this fight, cis-men must take responsibility for the damage wrought (especially as the ones still holding power and influencing women’s lives, in general). Perhaps the best thing they can do is not offer token, performative allyship and stay out of the way with unhelpful gestures and condescending advice, but there are also a number of other measures that can be taken, on both the personal and the societal levels:
The biggest challenge for men when it comes to tackling menstrual hygiene (or the lack of it) is their own ignorance. One needs only to look at the sheer amount of sexist menstruation jokes that pervades our culture to see this. Our education system and society’s reticence to talk about menstruation plays a huge role in – our boys, who are privileged enough to not have to worry about this process otherwise, grow up learning nothing about it outside of dry biology books. So, if you’re lacking information on the subject, do not hesitate to ask and talk about it – but also make the effort to learn about it yourself using whatever resources are available to you, instead of expecting menstruating women to enlighten you of their own accord. Learn about the process, learn about why and how it happens, learn about menstrual cramps and the consequent, often intense pain (and how this can be alleviated), and learn about hygienic practices that must be followed.
If you traverse in circles where the sexist jokes mentioned above are popular, now would be a good time to set such schoolboy juvenility straight and make the effort to help others learn. In a country where lack of knowledge about menstruation, among men and women, can be fatal, educating others is vital. Men, unfortunately, still retain the privilege of being listened to more and taken more seriously than women – so make sure some good comes out of that, and teach others – your sexist friend, your inquisitive child, your bored students, or people you interact with on a daily basis who do not have access to as many resources as you do. It is especially important for children to grow up learning about this in an accessible way. You can volunteer at or organise an education camp for underprivileged children, make sure your male acquaintances do not make life even more difficult for the menstruating folks in their lives with their insensitivity (and actively help whenever possible) and fight the stigma in many other such small but significant ways.
It may be your child, or your significant other, or any number of people in your life who are unable to get the hygiene products they need because of a variety of reasons (our society certainly isn’t short of those): stigma, debilitating pain, disability, and more. Just as you should not hesitate to talk to them about menstruation, you should not be ashamed or afraid to go out and buy these products when necessary. These are vital products necessary for hygiene, and if you’re not ashamed to buy toilet paper or bathroom soap, there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed about buying sanitary pads or tampons. And if doing this somehow hurts your masculine pride – well, clearly, that pride is a detriment to the well-being of others, and will be a lot more useful if it’s stuffed down the drain.
There are many ways you can do this. Not just by not being insensitive towards menstruating colleagues – but also by pushing for workplace policies that are actively helpful and accommodating, like making the workplace more comfortable and accessible with adequate hygiene and sanitation options, and the option of menstrual leave for those who wish to avail of it. If you hold a position of power in your workplace, it should be a priority for you to ensure such facilities are in place. And if you’re a public servant, like a civil engineer, a doctor, a politician, or a teacher, you have a responsibility towards making the world safer for all menstruating people.
Seriously, in the end, it’s not about you. Learn, ask, educate, but don’t unnecessarily intrude into conversations or situations where you are not needed just to satisfy your manly ego and fulfil the ancient doctrine of chivalry. You’ll be doing more harm than good this way. This is, of course, not an excuse to abdicate responsibility – as every point that came before this one still applies. It may not be *about* you, but it is still something that affects you – and society as a whole.