Dear Society, There Is Nothing Awkward Or Embarrassing About Periods

To all the people who are reading this, while having a glance through this article if you feel awkward or unpleasant irrespective of your gender, please do allot some of your valuable time to read this in precise.

We, the humans are struck with lot and lot of illogical taboos. 21st century India has seen a lot of drastic changes. We are planning for a voyage to Mars, education is easy, telecommunication is good but still deep down we still believe in myths and stupid stories. The mentality of most of us is quite conservative when it comes to considering menstruation as a taboo.

Let’s start from the first time a girl gets her period. While the first period is celebrated as a part of tradition, the consequent periods are abhorred. Talking about periods is seen as awkward, buying a sanitary napkin is an embarrassment (not just for women, even for men). One thing never gets old, it’s strictly forbidden for a bleeding woman to enter the temple. No matter what education we’ve had, we still refuse to see sense.

Where does all of this start? Why do we even consider buying a sanitary napkin as an embarrassment?

Let us consider a scenario.

There are two siblings: a sister and a brother. Sister hits puberty by the age of 11 (it is soon indeed, thanks to the adulterants in foods and milk). At the end of every month she grabs her stomach and sometimes yells in pain, she is confined to a solitary place. When this younger brother asks his mom what’s going on with his sister, this will be the most possible answer, “Nothing, she is having slight stomach ache.”

We, as whole, fail there to explain what menstruation is about. At that tender age, he won’t be able to get what we say, but still giving him a proper, non-falsified lesson is necessary, because the hesitation showed to that child may alter his entire thought on what’s menstruation. He will be forced to believe that his parents hesitated to explain him because it is something bad. This thought soon shifts into an embarrassment.

A 7-year-old child won’t understand what menstruation is. But a 7-year-old child could be molded just a way that he or she can have a clear idea about it in future. So when a child approaches and asks you something like that, explain to him or her with a smiling face. Explanation should be clear and understandable for their maturity level like the following one.

Every month, your sister’s body prepares to hold babies, like a bird prepares a nest. Most of the time, there is no baby, so your sister sheds her nest in order to make a new nest the coming month. Our (mother) nests are made of blood and flesh, and that’s is why there is blood. This blood is the reason why you are here. Since your sister utilises all her energy for the nest, she may feel tired.

Explanation is important, because whatever it may be, women empowerment, gender equality, sex education, it all begins there.

Even a grown woman could have an improper knowledge about periods. Tracking your period is way more important than most of the monthly chores. Dairy products should be avoided as they increase prostaglandins which make the uterus contract. More the uterus contracts, worse the cramps. Keeping the body warm may relieve the cramps. There are so many dos and don’ts to be followed during the process. Men should be made more aware of this. Even though you may never go through menstruation, it is necessary to know about certain things. For instance PMS.

Premenstrual syndrome – affects a women’s behaviour, emotions and physical health during certain days of the menstrual cycle. Levels of estrogen and progesterone increases during certain times of the months. This may cause mood swings, anxiety. This PMS thing isn’t a myth. So men, next time when she yells at you when she is on her period, just empathise. Period is painful but walking down with a body pain and mood swings is sure hell.

Now let’s talk about menstrual pads or tampons.

Seriously if you give me one million and insist me on starting a company, I will be surely starting a sanitary pad company, because that’s a golden goose. There is vast international marketing thriving and profiting from women who bleed. Over the course of history, many democratic governments treasury has been half filled by the tampon tax.

Have any of you seen a menstrual cup advertisement in your lifetime? A menstrual cup is comparably good, cheaper and environmentally safe when compared with tampons and pads but still, we have no clear-cut introduction to it. An ordinary sanitary pads pack consist of 20 pieces which costs around ₹300, while the single menstrual cup costs around ₹300 and can be used for a period of 2-3 years. So what if menstrual or diva cup comes into a complete circulation? Only once in three years, you will pay a tax for your menstruation, while in case of menstrual pads you may be paying it every month.

Menstrual cups are easy to insert (still pads are preferred for girls under 18 as it may be painful for some). They are non-toxic, reusable for period of 2-3 years but should be cleaned thoroughly after use. While the pads need to be frequently changed, diva cup can be left way longer than tampons or pads.

Pads or Cups, Menstrual hygiene is must.

And finally, let’s dismantle the myths and stupid stories about menstruation.

If pregnancy is all about life, then menstruation is nothing short of divinity. She bleeds so that you can walk over the face of the earth. Every period is a rebirth to create, nurture and transform.

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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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