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Menstrual Cups Block Urine And Other Things Educated Women Believe About Their Own Bodies

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.

Menstruation is a word the world refuse to say out loud. Even in the most progressive circles where we discuss the plight of humanity, we hesitate to address this one topic, which concerns half the human population. We don’t count it important enough to be discussed in a health forum. Our culture doesn’t approve such inappropriate conversations, you know. And it is this mindset that makes major physical and mental issues in women go unnoticed, and if noticed, unattended to.

We are, since childhood, filled with misconceptions about it. Lack of education, some say. But is that really the case? Are the educated women free from the problems of menstruation or are they subject to more or new kinds of problems? Universities are where we see student communities fight for change and justice. The place where we engage in highly intellectual discussions about anything and everything. Keeping that in mind, what are the problems bleeding women have to face in such spaces?

Students protesting in DU Campus. Image Courtesy: www.dnaindia.com

A recent study by Kiranmayi, a masters student in Public Health at the University of Hyderabad explains how menstruation is still a taboo subject even in academic spaces filled with educated humans. As part of her project, she provided free menstrual cups to interested women on campus. She went to each and every washroom in the ladies hostels in HCU campus to paste her posters and talked to the hostlers about the project in person.

“I talked to students in the campus and requested if they could try menstrual cups to help me out in my project. And a few asked, how they will urinate when their vagina is blocked thus! That made me determined to go on with this subject because even educated women don’t know about their own bodies. Menstruation and its practical problems are a highly underresearched topic. We need to start talking about in our academic spaces, in our peer groups, in our families, just as we talk about any other bodily conditions.”

In many of the washrooms, sanitary napkins and food waste are disposed into the same bin. When cats or dogs come inside the hostels, they search for food in these bins. Later, students play with these same pets and the chances of infection are high. Pad disposal is a major environmental and health issue, for which there aren’t any effective alternatives found. Incinerating them or dumping them in landfills are the only ways known now, and both are equally hazardous. “It’s high time we understand how our menstrual habits are affecting our health, and thus our whole life. Especially in cases where women are staying away from home, for studies, for work or anything, they tend to be very ignorant about the whole thing. We don’t need a degree in health science to understand how dangerous it is to use the same napkin for more than 5 hours or to wrap used pads in a paper before throwing them into the dustbin. It’s common sense.”

“Plastic was invented to make our lives easy. We can recycle plastic to use it again. Then why are we using plastic to make pads, which can’t be recycled? They were made for emergency purposes such as travelling.” Unfortunately, now plastic napkins are the mainstream solution, which is highly harmful to both the users and others. But the alternative for plastic would be cloth, which is not good enough to women who have gone out and stay away from the comforts of home. More efficient pads are now available in market, like extra large pads or pads which dry the blood quickly, but the health risks that come along with them are huge as well. Tampons are also prone to causing infection. People try preventing infection to the extent of making sure we sanitize our hands every time we touch them, but that is not safe enough.

“Our washrooms are in need of major renovation. They are not clean, they don’t have proper drainage systems or toilet flushes. Clean washrooms are essential for health,” she says. Also, the availability of napkins is an issue. The authorities have installed pad wending machines, yes, but they are practically of no use. Women need to have 10 rupee or five rupee coins with them all the time, so that they can run to the machine at times of emergency and get two pads. And the pads they provide are huge diaper like ones, which is quite embarrassing to use for many.

Menstrual cup, which is comparatively a new product in the market, is presented as a much better and safer option. These silicone cups are not harmful to the body or the environment and one cup can be used up to ten years as per the manufacturer’s word.  They hold more blood than pads or tampons and will slowly degrade in the ten years of time. There are different folds and techniques to use them, and the comfortable fold varies from person to person.

But alas! As much as we neglect menstrual health, we are very wary when it comes to trying new products. “The companies producing menstrual cups are not giving it much advertisement. They are afraid because of the whole taboo about menstruation, it is easier for a new product to earn a bad reputation. Indian companies refused to sponsor my project unless I agree to keep the end-results a secret, more or less. Then a foreign company approved my project and sponsored it.” It has not been many years since we started to read about this product through media and it is always from somebody’s first-hand experience that another person gathers the courage to try a new health product.

Aversion to using menstrual products that go into the vagina is still a problem because you know, we have a great culture of our own, which cause a problem to working/studying women. Also, people are hesitant due to the price of these cups, which range from 400 to 1200 per cup. “But considering how much we pay for sanitary pads every month, and how much health issues the pads cause,  menstrual cups are worth the money,” Kiranmayi clarifies.

Interestingly, those women who have used and are impressed with menstrual cups are very vocal about it, on social media especially. But that won’t be enough. We are a country where a large number of people don’t have access to proper menstruation products, and yet not doing anything to improve it. In fact, we have to pay 12% GST for every pad we use. Education is of no use if it doesn’t enable us making our lives better. When we hesitate to talk, problems won’t be addressed and solved. And as I agree with what Kiranmayi said, we need to talk about it more and more, and only that will make any change.

Featured image for representational purposes only. Photo by CollegeDegrees360/Flickr

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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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

  • Mobilising young people between the age of 18-35 to become ‘Eco-Period Champions’ by making the switch to a sustainable menstrual alternative and becoming advocates for the project
  • All existing and upcoming public institutions (pink toilets, washrooms, schools, colleges, government offices, government buildings) across East Delhi to have affordable provisions for sustainable menstrual product options

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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