In Swacch Bharat, Menstruation Is Still A Dirty Secret

Posted by Sumana Khan in #IAmNotDown, Menstruation
June 13, 2017

Interestingly, from the time of Gandhi to the Swachh Bharat campaign, most people in India use the world ‘sanitation’ to define open defecation. The soch (thought) of the Indian audience of equating sanitation with just shauch (toilet) and hardly anything else, has led us all to think that we contribute towards a clean India by only unloading in toilets. ‘Sanitation’ is way too vast a term to define and then confine. Although it is understood that focusing on one issue at a time yields better results, the Swachh Bharat campaign could have been used to tackle a myriad of interconnected issues. One such grave issue is of maintaining sanitation during menstruation.

Although recent toilet awareness campaigns focussed on women have addressed the issue of women’s dignity, they have not highlighted the necessity of toilets for women to reduce the risk of infection, irrespective of whether a woman is on her periods or not.

Even if we ride on the ‘izzat’ (dignity) of women to make men build toilets, how do we ensure that the ladies of the house are able to use it during the time when their jeths (elder brother-in-law), sasur (father-in-law), pita (father) and bhaiyaa (elder brother) are around? Especially when she is menstruating and is considered ‘untouchable’. Just think about her situation. Does she need to wait till the mards (men) go out? Does the bleeding wait? Do women make less poop during the presence of mards in the house? This is another aspect of our ‘sacred’ Bharatiya sanskriti (Indian culture). 

It is a fact that we, as women, are more prone to attracting urinary tract infections (UTIs) from frequently holding our urine in. It leads to the growth of germs, and then an infection. For this reason (the lack of access to toilets), some women also don’t drink enough water.

Now coming to the use of sanitary pads during menstruation; apart from providing sanitary pads at affordable rates, or making them tax-free, how can the government make sure that menstruating ladies of the entire country are able to access pads and use them in a way that does not spread infections? Awareness campaigns usually revolve around using sanitary pads.

As a student of mass communication, I used to visit two villages (Tarapur and Tikari) in Varanasi District, Uttar Pradesh, every Saturday, to work towards development communication on womens’ health issues. Although I counselled several women during those two years about the need to use sanitary pads or clean cotton clothes during their periods, I have never told them, or no one has rather told us that we need to change at least three pads a day to avoid any kind of infection. Being privileged, I had access to this information from a neighbour who was a gynaecologist. But how many women in India know that this is the necessary thing to do when you are bleeding?

The recent release of the trailer of  “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” has attracted applause from every quarter, even from Prime Minister Modi himself. Though it is great to see popular media bringing forth movies on such issues, other media outlets are propagating all-inclusive issues of women and their sanitation. Well, on that note, I urge Twinkle Khanna to weave in the mentioned areas in her much talked about upcoming production “The Padman,” based on the life-story of Arunachalam Muruganantham.