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Let’s Talk About Period Like The Future Of Mankind Depends On It

Half of the world’s population regularly undergoes a monthly event that for some reason was and still continues to be deemed as a taboo for discussion. A seemingly harmless event that happens to be the reason for the existence of the human species, yet in a country like ours that suggests procreation is of the utmost importance, is still considered a hush-hush topic.

Periods. Chums. Flow. That Time of the Month. MENSTRUATION. Let’s talk about this.

By definition – “Menstruation is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina.” People with vaginas and a relatively healthy flow first experience this between the ages of 12-15 and this lovely inconvenience occurs every month for a week or so until they turn around 50. To stop this from resulting in blood-stained underwear and bottoms, sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups and other innovative devices are used. Of course, all of these products have existed in relatively recent times and are surprisingly available to only a minority of the world’s female population.

Now, why is there so much debate and irrationality related to discussing this subject?

On an ordinary weekend morning, a 12-year-old girl wakes up and walks to her bathroom where she notices her underwear and pyjamas are covered everywhere in dried-up coagulated blood. imageedit_1_2962665461.png

She screams and yells to call her mother who was luckily around and all her mother does is look at her daughter’s terrified face and bottoms after which she smiles, nods and walks away only to come back with clean underwear, pyjamas and a pad. Tada! Welcome to your new life. “You’re not a girl anymore; you’re a woman”. The girl-turned-woman has only one thought in her head now. “What.”

That’s my story and to be honest, after discussing this milestone event with my other girlfriends, mine seems to be the most mundane. Not only did I grow up with a mother who has also experienced the same trauma at one point in her life, I have an elder sister. Nevertheless, I was mortified at what my body uncontrollably just did.

No one knows when their period will occur. What day of the month, what time of the day. There can be estimations and preparations, i.e., carry your “feminine hygiene products” with you. If you’re outdoors without preparation and you’re visited by “Aunt Flo” (my favourite playful term for periods, lol), you gotta sneak around, target women and whisper to them, almost inaudibly – “Pad?”. Just the one word. This repeats until one of them nods her head yes and hands it over. This exchange is easily more covert and undercover than most cocaine trades. Lord help if the woman you know with your required stash is conversing with a man because this demands an extra word exchange of – “Hey, can I speak to you alone for a minute?” because the boy “isn’t supposed to know”.

An insane amount of women around the world have no access to the most basic feminine hygiene products. They have no option but to drop out of school and you can’t blame them for this. It’s not their fault. Not to mention the health-related problems they have to face due to the related unhygienic conditions.

The scared 12-year-olds, the unprepared panicky souls and the less fortunate ones who have to give up their dreams and future. They answer the question on the stigma associated with period. Every flaw or “daag” attached to periods is so illogical, so senseless and unnecessary. This made up idea of what menstruation represents has caused it to never be talked about as natural thing that everyone goes through, making everything unnecessarily difficult for the “girls turned women” around the world.

Girls in schools have to orchestrate a whole mentally constructed scheme every time they wish to use the washroom – Tear out a page of paper from a notebook → Place the paper inside the schoolbag → Slide the pad from the bag onto the paper → Wrap the paper around the pad whilst inside the bag → Put the paper-wrapped pad inside the uniform pocket → Rush to the washroom acting overtly casual. All so that their fellow boy-classmates don’t see.

Bottom line is if men, women, everyone discussed menstruation openly or rather just react to menstruation and pads and tampons casually whenever brought up, all this would be avoided. All this futile, needless workarounds. Maybe, bringing light to these topics can result in much larger accomplishments like access to the necessary hygiene products in remote areas of society which does translate to saving lives.

Recently, some light is shed on this matter in our country – scrutinising the need for imposing GST on pads and tampons is one main example. However, it’s a debate that hasn’t been discussed as much as it should be. Another impressive feat is the Hindi movie “Padman” based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of the low-cost sanitary pad-making machine and social activist highly responsible for generating awareness about menstruation in rural India.

A large part of this world including rural India has a long way to go. The deeper and sadder stories related to periods are even harsher. The social stigma needs to be broken. Explain periods to your young daughters the next time a Stayfree ad comes on TV. Loudly and openly ask anyone for a pad if you need one and never shy away from this conversation because it can result in saving lives. Girls talk about it, boys talk about it, aunties talk about it. Talk about this like the future of mankind depends on it. It actually does.

As always, thanks for reading and please do share! Stay vocal and unashamed.

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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

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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