When I grew up in Germany, I never had to worry about my period. Sure, probably everybody agrees that having your period – the pain, the mood swings, the tiredness – is not the most wonderful experience. But when I got my first period, I was prepared. In high school, there was an extra class for girls to teach us about menstruation and everything that would soon happen to our bodies. My mother also talked me through the process – and, even before I got my first period, she had bought my first tampons. Never did I have to worry about access to sanitary products. Neither had I even imagined how life would be like without these products.
After I came to rural Uttar Pradesh to work for an NGO, United for Hope, I shockingly realised how the things I had taken for granted are a monthly struggle for girls and women in this area – and an extreme one at that too! Over 90% of the women here do not have access to any sanitary pads and have to cope using other ready-at-hand materials like old clothes, rags – and sometimes, even sand or ashes. For any woman who has access to sanitary products, this is almost unimaginable.
When I learned that 20% of girls in India, especially in the rural parts, drop out of school when they start their periods, I was enraged. So enraged! Periods, a natural human function, should never prevent anyone from pursuing their education. I repeat: Never! How has this been mostly neglected in development policies so far? Drop-out rates are to be lowered, but I never read about tackling menstrual hygiene and access to sanitary products in this context on a policy-level. Is it because there are mostly men in politics and policy-making?
This problem is not just limited to India – it’s a universal problem. Men make decisions about women’s health, their bodies, their reproductive rights and what a woman can or cannot do. Slowly, menstrual hygiene is being talked about and issues are being tackled through WASH programmes. But men still feel mostly uncomfortable hearing about it.
A woman will have her periods. Not talking about it won’t change that. Shaming and hiding her won’t change that. It’s natural. And it’s time to talk about it and take action to break the limits. Period!
Featured image used for representative purposes only.