When I turned eleven, my mother and sister sat me down and told me about the 2 Ps. Not an extended version of the marketing mix, but about puberty and periods!
With each word they uttered, the decibel level of my “WHAT?” increased. I could not believe that I would have to bleed for 5 days every month and quietly bear the pain.
My mind went numb at the end of this conversation. I could not fathom the changes that were going to take place in my life. They also advised me to keep a sanitary pad handy, so that I am well-prepared for my menarche.
Subsequently, our school conducted a counseling session. But by this time, I had gained some experience as I had already started with my periods and had reluctantly accepted ‘Aunt Flo’ as a part of my life.
I agree with stand-up comedian, Aditi Mittal when she said that saying the words ‘sanitary napkin’ is like standing in the Hogwarts common room and saying, Voldemort!
Until this session, the girls who had already had their periods always spoke in hushed voices while discussing sanitary napkins.
The NGO which had come to talk to us told us a very ghastly story. I was aware of women using cloth instead of sanitary pads. But this really shook me.
They said a lot of women are so poor that they use any bits of cloth available. A woman used her blouse but forgot to take out the hook in it. She used it during menstruation and the hook cut her vagina. The wound became septic and she eventually died.
This story still makes me cringe when I think about it. That was the day I realized how important sanitary pads are!
It is appalling that only 12% women in India have access to sanitary napkins, and the rest have to depend on unhygienic materials like husk, sand, rags, leaves, etc. The root causes of the problem are unaffordability and ignorance.
Here, it is important to laud the efforts of an uneducated, but a wise man from South India, Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham.
He started researching viable sanitary pads for his wife, but ended up changing the lives of thousands of women in India especially the ones residing in rural areas.
In a bid to make a low cost sanitary pad, Mr. Murugunantham had to pay a huge price. His wife and mother left him and he was ostracized by the society. The villagers believed that he was possessed by an evil spirit, and could only be ‘healed’ by chaining him upside down to a tree. Moreover, he was even labeled as a pervert because he asked women to help him with his research. Undeterred, he left his village and continued with his quest. He decided to carry on his research by himself by wearing a football bladder with goat’s blood. In his words, he became, ‘The first man to wear a sanitary pad’.
His hard work finally paid off and he invented a machine to manufacture low cost sanitary pads. The invention helped him to overcome his crippling financial conditions and also led to him winning several awards for his innovation, and a Padam Shri in 2016. Today, he has installed more than 2,300 machines across India with special focus on rural and tribal areas. All these installations are run by women, out of whom more than 20 percent are school dropouts.
However, he raises a very important question, humourously reiterated by Aditi Mittal, “Why are the girls in sanitary napkin ads always shown only wearing white pants? Why do they have to be Jeetender on those five days?’’
This is relevant because in almost all advertisements, the girls wear white pants or a very pale shade of pants, reminiscent of the colour of the wrapper of the napkin.
Why isn’t there more emphasis on the hygiene during menstruation?
Even a sanitary pad can turn unhygienic and cause infections if it is not changed regularly. So, there are two problems: Firstly, to encourage women to adopt the use of sanitary pads and make them more accessible. Secondly, to educate those who are using sanitary pads to use them wisely while taking proper care of themselves.