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Let’s Talk A Bit Softly About Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

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.

One morning, you get up and you are covered in blood, there are blood stains on your bed, to your horror you realise it’s your own. Your innards are undergoing such vicious cramps like someone has hooked a vacuum cleaner to your guts and switched it on, what do you do?

Simple, clean up the mess, put on a sanitary napkin, pop an anti spasmodic pill and leave for yoga classes.

“You people go inside, I will wait here outside the temple. I can’t enter the kitchen, can you get me a glass of water please? I have put my bed on the floor, it’s ok, I am comfortable. Yes I will wash all my clothes myself with hands, I know I can’t do it in the washing machine, else it might come in contact with other people’s clothes.”

No, I wasn’t an outcast, just a girl who was menstruating.

You can pretend in social circles that you are open about it, as it is a normal thing. But when you suffer, you choose the easy way out and that is to be quiet. When you stand there in a queue to buy pads, you choose a woman seller and then you wish for it to be covered with newspaper and then polyethene bags.

You don’t want people to see it.

What is normally, a biological process which almost every woman undergoes during her life, is a social taboo.

Let’s talk a bit softly about something that makes you uncomfortable – menstruation, and also the fact why is it so.

For centuries menstruation or periods as we call it in day to day life is a taboo subject, omnipresent but not talked about, and I fail to understand why. I mean it’s just the process of shedding out waste products from the body, simple as that. I don’t understand the need to glorify or vilify it.

I can agree with the argument that maybe the woman or girl undergoing it, wants to keep it personal and to herself, but then our society is such a hypocritical one, that it will not allow them this thing in its entirety also, what message does a girl send out when she stands in front of the temple when her whole family or gang of friends go inside? Or how rational it is that a woman who is menstruating cannot enter the kitchen or pujaghar?

I can never understand the intricacies of logic that the society gives, if God would have hated women on periods He would have found a better way to let them know that they are not pregnant, like pinging on your WhatsApp “Hey girl, still not pregnant, enjoy your life, see ya next month, xoxo, God” or sending pigeons in the olden times maybe. But this is the way He chose Himself, who are we to question His wishes? Or to assume that he hates women on periods.

How can a woman become so filthy during this time period that she can’t enter her own kitchen? I mean that’s downright disgusting, this twisted logic so silly I don’t even want to clarify it.

And these are just a few of the curfews put on women, all of which if I write down and justify here, will take up much of your and my time, but I can assure you this much, all are equally or even more silly trust me.

Leaving the society aside, even then if we want to keep it to ourselves, we can’t. The situation arises now and then where we have to let the world know, even if we don’t want to, whether it’s asking for relaxation in the P.T. classes or buying sanitary napkins or if it’s a case of staining. So all I am saying is if we can’t keep it to ourselves we must have an understanding society, where we are not made to feel inferior during menstruation, where we get the necessary moral support.

The society is weird, if you don’t undergo menstruation they will call you a barren woman and call you names. And if you are undergoing it, you become filthy.

When will this change? Or are we going to take this to our grave? The moment people come forward speaking about it openly, it’s not a taboo anymore. For that, they need to understand its a normal biological process.

Men generally try to sidestep this issue thinking all these are “woman troubles” but no, it’s your equal responsibility to make a society which is sane and logical, you can take the initiative too, by talking about it not in a perverse, sexualised way but by taking it as it is – a normal natural phenomenon, by standing up against age-old illogical customs.

Women have an even bigger role in the whole issue, because it involves us, we often run to our mothers, sisters and girlfriends for advice and to discuss our problems, they are the ones who teach us the dos and don’ts, we can bring the changes we want in the society, I am not asking people to be reckless and start disobeying all the rules, all I am suggesting is that we try to reason with our parents, and other elderly members of our house, that might not work I can understand but must not give up.

And if nothing seems to work, don’t worry, we all will be parents one day, and that day instead of carrying over the weight of age-old customs on our back we can choose our own reality. After all, I don’t want my daughter sitting outside on the steps of a temple feeling sorry for herself.

Because she should be proud that she can carry a life, not ridiculed by it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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