Breaking Menstrual Taboos!

Posted by Zeba Zoariah Ahsan
August 4, 2017

All these years, I have seen people talking about safe drinking water, growth of educational institutions for a secured future, better health facilities, toilets for girls, etc. In fact, regarding the topic of toilets for girls, there have been many public campaigns and TV ads where we see celebrities emphasising on the necessity of the message of ‘shochalaya banao (build toilets)’. After all, this is one of the many ways of preventing harmful diseases from becoming epidemics.

Somehow, it is now easier to send a mission to Mars than to universalise sanitation. With the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it is possible to have a clean India – provided we give our 100%. However, apart from public sanitation, there are many more things to talk of, discuss and create awareness about.

Yes, you got me right. I am trying to emphasise the need to talk about issues pertaining to menstruation. How many of us actually bother to talk about or spread awareness on this issue? Very few. Rather, whenever there is an advertisement on TV which shows sanitary napkins, people get so edgy that they tend to change channels.

No, you don’t need to do that at all! We bleed on a monthly basis, which is absolutely normal. It is a sign that we have a healthy reproductive system. I have had many friends in school who never talked on such issues with their fathers or brothers. If they did talk about this with their brothers, the discussions were mostly met with laughter.

It’s absolutely fine if you let your father or your brother get you a packet of sanitary napkins. In my case, I was never shy to tell my father to get me pads when I was menstruating. On the other hand, some of my friends used to give me such disgusted looks as though the thought of asking your father to bring what you need in your ‘uncomfortable week’ was unimaginable.

There was even an incident some six years ago. I had stained my white summer school skirt so badly that I had to tell the boys in my class to leave for 10 minutes so that I could ink the large red patch in blue. Luckily, the teacher was late. All of them had witnessed what I was going through. One of the boys even went on to comment, “Was she bitten by a leech?” I wasn’t hurt by his remark but I felt bad for him. Would he ever say the same thing if his mother, sister or partner went through the same situation I did?

However, my condition got so worse that I decided to take a ‘half-leave’ and go home because of constant abdominal cramps. When the teacher asked me why I wanted to go home, I simply said, “Sir! I am on my period. I want to go home!” The teacher was understanding enough and immediately let me go.

The reaction on everyone’s faces surprised me. Some of the girls said, “What is wrong with her? How could she even tell that to a male teacher?” This happened in class 12, when one is supposed to much more matured than students in other classes. Ironically, most of them wanted to be doctors. To create a gender sensitive society, reforms have to start from the classroom level itself.

Women, especially from rural areas, suffer a lot as they do not find a voice when they are menstruating. They are often forced to use unhygienic means when they are bleeding, which aren’t even disposed properly. There are instances when they reuse these sanitary tools which then leads to an outbreak of deadly diseases – thereby reducing their lifespans and even affecting subsequent generations.

Due to the lack of hygienic means, women even face difficulties during delivery – post-natal care being another matter altogether. Not having access to proper menstrual hygiene is another reason for the high rate of school drop outs among girls.

Yet, there are pioneers and change makers who work tirelessly – amidst all the criticism and failures but with the hope that it is all for the greater good. One such person is Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur about whom Al Jazeera ran a cover story a couple of years back. Popularly referred to as ‘India’s menstruation man’, Arunachalam was obsessed with making the perfect sanitary pad for his wife – after he saw her monthly ordeal of using old rags because she could not afford sanitary napkins.

Some people thought that he was insane to be doing this, but nothing could deter him from achieving his mission. The result was an easy-to-use machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads, priced at US $950. It has even helped in creating employment opportunities for many rural women. Quite fittingly, the TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014.

On the other hand, Aditi Gupta is putting an end to the period taboo with Menstrupedia. Menstrupedia is a fun guide to healthy periods, which aims to spreading awareness about menstruation and shatter myths about it. Aditi’s Menstrupedia comic is for girls aged nine and above – and is now used by more than 75 schools, 25 NGOs and 70,000 girls across India.

Menstrual Hygiene Day was recently held on May 28, 2017 – and social media served as a great platform for spreading awareness with a plethora of videos, pictures, photo stories and even memes. It is high time we break such taboos. Knowing about your body and its functioning is one of the most essential things ever.