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Why Haven’t We Involved Those Who Don’t Bleed In The Period Conversation?

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This story is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign #IAmNotDown to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene and start a conversation on how sanitary pads can be made more affordable. If you have an opinion on how we can improve access to menstrual hygiene products, write to us here.

Girls who grow up in India will always have extremely interesting stories to share about the time they spent in school. Here, of course, I am talking about those from privileged backgrounds. Girls whose parents could afford an expensive private school education.

Female students in co-educational settings have a hard time growing up. We have had a hard time, mostly because early on, we are told to hide ourselves, to beware when we’re engaging with the opposite sex, to behave.

We are also asked to pledge ourselves to keeping one particularly big secret: the fact that after a point, we start to bleed. In school, we started a journey, guarding this secret with all we had. From ensuring that there was one hidden pocket in our school bags where we could keep sanitary napkins, to playing a game of pass-the-pad without attracting the attention of penis bearers, non-bleeders.

Wearing white skirts on Wednesdays was nothing short of a Fear Factor episode. The sisterhood would often be of great help. “Is there a stain on my skirt?” was reduced to one particular expression – aggressive squinting for a few seconds at another secret keeper and walking ahead for them to check for a stain.

Behind these seemingly little random set of activities went a lot of planning, discussion, deliberation and a unanimous sense of helplessness. There was nothing we could do to stop bleeding every month. There was no getting away from the expenditure on sanitary napkins. There was no getting away from the fact that we were on our own, that this was not something penis bearers, non-bleeders would ever be involved in.

We never questioned, why not? It never occurred to our patriarchy-conditioned minds that this was important and that men needed to know about it.

We live in a world where skewed gender roles have kept women inside, and men outside, in charge of things. In a world where the penis bearers, non-bleeders get to make decisions that affect those who bleed. It doesn’t make sense to not have them, as part of the conversation on menstruation. Period. No pun intended.

Back in my school, ‘experts’ from sanitary napkin companies would come and talk to us about why we bleed, where we bleed from, and what we should do to take care of ourselves during our period. Great, right? Not really.

The experts would address an auditorium full of adolescent girls, while adolescent penis bearers, non-bleeders would run with utter glee in the nearby basketball court, because well, free games period! These penis bearers, non-bleeders knew. They knew something happened to us/with us every month and that we fight really hard to keep that secret. They had their own stock of – ‘Stay free’ and ‘Whisper’ jokes. They basically were an arrogant bunch of Jon Snows.

The point is, this careful, systematic segregation of the male population from the conversation on menstruation or women’s health in general, in an extremely patriarchal society, is the right formula that feeds into continued oppression and subjugation of the female population. Men continue to exist in ignorance, in bliss, in an absolutely misinformed and desensitised state when it comes to menstruation.

It’s high time we ask some really important questions. In a country where women form a measly 12% of the elected bodies and hardly have a say on how laws are formed and passed, how is it not structural violence that all women in India still don’t have access to menstrual health, and worse, charged by the government on every single purchase of sanitary napkins? How is it not utterly evil that we keep men away (or they ensure they are kept away) from conversations on menstruation?

For any long-term change (attitudinal, structural,etc.) to take place, penis bearers, non-bleeders will have to be included every time we begin to educate our women about menstruation. We shouldn’t have to be in this fight alone. We shouldn’t have to explain why sanitary napkins are not just another commodity. We shouldn’t have to die.
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Image source: jacob jung/Flickr
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  1. Gaurav Sneh

    Now that you have come up with such an important point in this article, I would also emphasize upon involving girls in condom education as much as we encourage men. Surprisingly, we as a society are crippled when it comes to logics. Having children is a blessing but hide the pad and keep the voice low when you say ‘periods’. Condom word itself is creepy and erotic for some. Forget Sex Education, word itself is banned at home. hehehe …

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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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