Some conversations move you, and your pen stops. This was one of them.
I was carrying out a qualitative research on people’s attitudes and knowledge about menstruation in rural parts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand.
We were in conversation with a young sarpanch (elected village head), also father to a young daughter. It is a well-established fact that talks about menstruation are generally unwelcome, discouraged, and, in most rural parts, forbidden. Powerful men, and patriarchal women, who maintain control over the community and household, make sure these conversations don’t happen. Even if an educated and progressive sarpanch wants to hold talks on the subject, he is pulled down.
The conversation began.
I was taking notes, and my colleague was interviewing the sarpanch.
Somewhere in between…
“You do have a sound understanding of menstruation,” said my colleague. “How do you think it affects women and girls?”
“Ma’am,” the sarpanch replied. “I can’t tell you how it affects their life, but I can tell you that it has had a devastating effect on my relationship with my daughter. Since she has started menstruating, I have observed, she has distanced herself from me. She speaks with her mother more; they have a more cordial relationship. I am, quite frankly, jealous. I am the parent too. I miss talking to my daughter, knowing about her day at school and friends. I am missing a big part of her growing up. That is how menstruation has affected me. I feel so good today, that, for the first time, I am able to share this with someone.”
My colleague and I looked at each other. Ouch, that hurts, and almost goes unnoticed. This was a revelation to us. I mean, we as researchers, when we are on the field and conducting interviews around topics like these, we always think so much from the service-delivery perspective: availability of pads, clean toilets, water, medicine, access to health care, information and more. We almost neglect how menstruation affects the psycho-social fabric woven with a patriarchal thread. Patriarchal conditioning is so deep that we as researchers almost overlooked the gender dynamics brought up here by the sarpanch. This story is not merely restricted to rural areas, but has a strong presence in the urban jungle as well.
Undeniably, girls and women are at the receiving end here and quite severely. But one cannot overlook the fact that patriarchy is equally bad for men. It is costing us healthy relationships. I am sure, most of us can relate to this story and reflect. Do you relate?