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They Taught Us Everything About Menstruation In School, But Not The Boys

WASH logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #NoMoreLimits, a campaign by WASH United and Youth Ki Awaaz to break the silence on menstrual hygiene. If you'd like to become a menstrual hygiene champion, share your story on any one of these 5 themes here.

I still remember that particular day. It was during my 6th standard, an announcement was made in the middle of a science class. All girls from my class were asked to assemble in our school auditorium. We were surprised to see girls of other classes waiting there already. The hall was all set for a program. A few ladies came from a reputed sanitary napkin company and showed us a video presentation, which explained about menstruation, the science behind it, ways to handle it, menstrual hygiene etc. To me, it was entirely new and only 10% of what they spoke went inside my mind. That is quite natural. We were given a kit which had a pamphlet for information and a sample sanitary pad (marketing!). This was also OK. Before we left the auditorium, our school teacher strictly instructed us not to share about the session to our fellow ‘male’ classmates. We had a tough time hiding the kit from the boys. That was the first time I asked this question to myself.

Very soon after this incident, I was invited to attend the ‘puberty event’ of a family friend where she was treated like a heroine in the entire event. In the middle of the event when her male cousin asked about what was actually happening, a senior family member intervened and said, “No. This is not for you. This is only for girls.” My mind unknowingly asked the same question once again.

There were several occasions one after the other. Slowly, I started asking the same question to people in my close circle. I got a variety of answers with a variety of emotions ranging from a blunt smile to an uncontrolled anger. Nothing convinced me. My mind refused to accept the fact that I should not talk about this like every other normal thing. On the other hand, the society which I lived in, never gave a comfort zone to discuss or reveal my opinion in this regard.

Finally, I got the boldness to talk back. It was during my early twenties when I had to search for shops in an outskirt area to purchase a napkin for a friend in an emergency. At that time, I could only find a petty shop where the shopkeeper and the customers who stood outside were all men. My friend refused to accompany me. I went all alone and asked for a sanitary napkin. The shopkeeper, after a shocked reaction, searched for something. He finally said, “I don’t have a black cover.” I said, “It’s OK,” which gave him another shock.

This is where we miserably fail. Biologically, menstruation is for women. Menstruation/menstrual health is just not restricted to 3 days of a month but it is a core component of a woman’s entire life. From hormonal balance to pregnancy, everything depends on her period rating. Whenever I try to explain the need for men to know about menstruation I see people asking one silly question, “What is the need for men to know something which they don’t experience in their life?” I can and will say, “Why not?”

For girls, their fathers are their first hero. Many look up to them for every small thing. I have seen little girls who even wish to share the story of the ‘pencil theft’ that happened in their classrooms. When they share even such minor things, imagine their expectation when it comes to a life-changing biological transformation they undergo? How do they take puberty alone? A ghost that creates a mild barrier between them and their loveable dads? Dads need not discuss a period in detail like a mom. Few words like “It’s OK. This is an important part of your life. Take it as it is,” will make a difference.

PMS “Premenstrual Syndrome” is a hurdle that every woman faces month after month. This is not just for menstruating women but even for pregnant ladies and for ladies after menopause. The degree of physical pain and the mental pressure they undergo varies from woman to woman (in fact, it varies from one period to another for the same woman). Through all this, women work at home and outside home. They run behind kids. They attend social events and do everything during a period which they do otherwise.

They may have to smile when they just want to sit and cry. They may have to host an event when they actually want to sleep and rest. At that time, however strong and independent they are, their mind craves for care and concern from their loved ones.

It is definitely not possible for men to understand what women go through during their period. But knowledge about their menstrual health makes a difference. Every man should know what menstruation is – beyond the vague idea that it is just a 3-day women’s thing. As a fellow human being, it is really important for a man to know about the menstrual health of women. They should know how to treat her and more importantly how she wants herself to be treated at that time.

Menstruation is not a girl/woman thing. It is meant for everyone. Menstrual education and awareness are important for everyone irrespective of their gender.

If 10 is the age for girls to start knowing about menstruation, then at the same age boys should be taught about the science of menstruation and not as something that is not relevant to them.

Let's ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period by making menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools.

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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.

        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.

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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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