This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ashwini Menon. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘We Are Not Blue-Blooded Women Who Whisper About Menstruation’

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.

This article explores my journey as a woman and how I have become confident enough to dispel the taboos around menstruation.


I Was Clueless

I still remember the first time I saw a sanitary napkin ad on TV. I was in class 5. It was before I knew what periods were. Seeing the blue ink fall from a beaker on a white piece of sponge, I wondered when I would get one – to soak up all the ink from my leaky fountain pen! I thought a sanitary napkin would be a nice stationery item!

A Red Stain Was A Blot On Our Existence

If any of my friends had an unfortunate incident and left a stain on her white sports skirt, everyone rushed to hide it. The boys must not get to know anything. A well-meaning friend would nudge you and raise the ‘red flag’ – and at once, a handy sweater would be tied around your hips.

Later, when I got older and started buying sanitary napkins by myself, I noticed that the guy behind the counter packed it in a newspaper and placed it in a black plastic bag before handing it to me. Again, I never questioned any of this.

Wish I Had Been A Sport About It

I was an athlete during my school days. An ‘incident’ on the field would mean the ‘run of shame’ to the washrooms in front of everyone. I dreaded that more than coming second in a race – and I rarely came second!

I wish I had known that it was perfectly okay to go up to even my male sports teacher and say,“Sir, I am on my period. I think I have had a small incident. I need to go to the washroom. I shall be back soon. Please excuse me.”

Not An Untouchable

I shall be forever thankful to my mom for never treating me as an ‘untouchable’ by imposing several restrictions when I was on my periods. I never had a separate set of utensils. I never had to stay within the confines of my room. I could go to the kitchen as many times I liked (to raid the refrigerator that is, because I never cooked) and I could eat anything I liked – even pickle!

Granted, that in olden times, the tradition of not allowing the women of the house into the kitchen when they were menstruating, could have been simply because the rest of the family wanted them to rest. If someone feels tired and doesn’t wish to work, it’s okay. But today, one must relook at this tradition of alienating menstruating women.

No More Whispers

In my opinion, Whisper, one of the biggest sanitary napkin brands in India and one which I have always used, also propagates the taboo surrounding periods. A brand that has made several ads to showcase it as a friend of the empowered woman (the ‘Touch the Pickle’ one being lauded widely), loses the battle because of its very name!

The people behind the brand may have come up with the name at a time when period talk consisted of whispers. But today, things are not the same. Today, I am not the same Ashwini I was a decade or so back. Today, I do not want to keep quiet or whisper about menstruation. I definitely don’t want the younger generation of women to whisper about the issue. I don’t want any of us to silently point at the product at the chemist’s shop. I want ensure that we can call out the name of the product loudly.

But if the name of the product itself is ‘Whisper’, it defeats the purpose. And I am glad I am not alone in thinking this. A few months back, a petition on Change.org was started by Shreya Gupta of Bengaluru asking the brand to change its name.

No More Blue Blood

We are not aliens – and we do not have ‘blue blood’ in our veins. We don’t need it!

With the help of the normal red-coloured blood, we are still able to create life. And when we don’t conceive, the blood is shed. It’s time that the marketing teams of the sanitary napkin products stop pretending like feminists, and instead, really embrace the issue.

If not rebrand, companies like Whisper should at least show red liquid depicting blood on a sanitary napkin in its advertisements – just like the UK brand Bodyform has done, recently. To all those men who will probably feel uncomfortable while watching a red liquid fall on the sanitary napkin, I must say this – women feel just as uncomfortable when we see you touch and feel your crotch area in public. At least, the ad will be about something that is natural.

Roar: We Bleed Red

Women must openly discuss issues like the premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which they face every month. It’s okay to not be okay on your periods.

I came across this article on how music artists in the West have directly and vividly expressed their emotions while going through their periods through songs. In India, the closest we came to this is with this parody song by Girlyappa.

Don’t shy away from telling people that you are on your period. Don’t call it ‘chums’, ‘aunt flo’, ‘that-time-of-the-month’, etc. Also, don’t smuggle your sanitary napkin into the bathroom.

Own Your Period – It Will Change Men’s Perceptions On Periods

The unfortunate truth is that most men have a lot of misconceptions about periods. Don’t believe me? Watch this funny video. This is our fault. We should stop being shy. Instead, we should boldly speak to our husbands, brothers, sons and sensitise them.

Pravin Nikam is another ‘Pad Man’ educating the society about periods. It is important to spread awareness – be it through talks, songs, videos, comic books like Menstrupedia or something more creative and in-your-face.

Periods are not embarrassing. They are empowering.

It’s time that the world knew that we are not blue-blooded women who whisper about menstruation!


A version of this article was first published on my blog.


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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

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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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