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.
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.