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?
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