I was 15, down with high fever and upset stomach for almost no reason. It was a scorching afternoon that led to dehydration. Regular intake of water pushed me to the bathroom. I woke up to feel odd pain at the bottom of my belly and felt wet ‘down there’. I almost passed out in the bathroom and when I came back to my senses, I dragged myself out and to the bed somehow.
After incessant tossing and turning, I decided to leave the bed and join my dad, who was watching TV. Let’s put it this way. My mom, who thought I was not well, left early in the morning accompanied by my grandmother, to the temple to offer prayer. Bribe in terms of prasad wasn’t clearly helping. Dad was basically looking after me and watching cricket. I dragged myself out of bed and dad over heard me wailing out of pain. The next thing I remember was dad instructing me to bed.
I spotted the blood-stained bed sheet, and the blood slowly dripping till my ankle freaked me out. Tears rolled down like a stream. I was inconsolable and dad came to rescue. “Champ, time to stay strong. Don’t worry. This is not an illness to fear. It’s a biological indication that you are growing into a woman. Will you show little strength and rest till I am back?” I gave a nod.
Those 10 minutes were the worst. With dad not around, the weirdest questions cropped up in my mind and I thought I was suffering from cancer. Meanwhile, my dad rushed to the medical store and got me sanitary napkins. And since the sanitary napkins’ advertisement had always used ink to depict blood, I had this weird understanding that sanitary napkins belonged on stationary racks. Dad asked me to follow the instructions and use the sanitary pad accordingly. And I suddenly felt cheated by the sanitary napkin advertisements.
Dad cleared the air by explaining menstruation, myths and social taboos. “You will have your own share of cramps, mood swings and exasperating pain. Sometimes you will be emotionally weak, physically fragile and worn out. But that’s your share. Don’t let anyone in this world make you feel fragile or low. If you feel like playing cricket during menstruation, go out and play. If you feel like not talking to someone, don’t talk. It’s neither making you strong or weak. What is strong or weak is your personality,” said dad. These words have stayed with me. Forever.
Why did I narrate this story and weaved my emotion into words? Because the word menstruation has ‘men’ in it. In India, social stigma behind menstruation resists society to speak out about the problems faced by women during menstruation. But why does the society need men to speak about this issue?
For men, knowledge about menstrual hygiene and periods is often hindered by social, cultural and gender norms. Lack of awareness and a communication gap on the topic has lead to a negative perspective of menstruation and the female body. We openly discuss diet plans, calorie intake, gym sessions but not periods. The self-awareness and sensitivity of men towards menstruation can go a long way in dispelling myths around periods. Men discussing periods will make this world easier for women during menstruation.
Menstrual hygiene is just not a women’s issue but an issue of girl-child health, of education, of mortality ratio and sustainability. Menstruation is still a taboo subject in India. Even now, women are considered “impure” during their period, subjected to social, religious and cultural restrictions. According to research by Darsa, a strategic philanthropy foundation working around women’s welfare and rights, around 70% mothers consider menstruation ‘dirty’, perpetuating a culture of shame and ignorance.
Period shame has led to a lack of awareness among women, especially in rural areas. The lack of awareness towards menstruation hygiene leads to infections.
The numbers are worrying and so is the attitude of society towards periods. A significant conversation on the topic, irrespective of the gender, will lead to a healthy life of women. Men need to break their silence over menstruation, which will ensure better accessibility of menstrual healthcare for all women.