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‘Menstruation’: A Word That Still Fans The Fires Of Disgust And Discrimination

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A word, when spoken of in India, fans the fires of smirks, disgust, and protests. The recent human chain and 10 women making it inside the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, has been making headlines. Apparently, the deity there, Lord Ayyappa, is a ‘Brahmachaari‘ (celibate), which became a reason for restricting any woman within the age group of 10-50 years from entering the temple. Religious traditions versus gender equality has forever been a conflict. However, this time, the scale is huge. The Supreme Court had made a judgement, earlier in 2018, removing the said religious ban on women entering the temple.

What has been happening is a clear violation of human rights and a large scale example of gender discrimination. Strangely, practising untouchabilty with a specific age group of women is a crime under the protection of Civil rights 1955. All that remains to be understood is how blood from a woman’s vagina, the sole reason why life exists on this planet, is impure. It is a matter of shame how, on one hand, women are regarded as goddesses in India, and treated as an untouchable on the other. Only because of a normal, natural, biological process.

Menstruation, by its most general definition, is a process in which an unfertilised egg shed off from the uterus along with the uterus lining at the end of each month. The average age it starts at is 12-13 years of age, while it lasts till about the age of 50. The cycle is required for the production of oocytes, and to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. It is the base of human society and life—that’s not so tough to understand.

Having said that, periods have always been surrounded by social taboos and myths that limit and effect women in several aspects of socio-cultural life In India. What is sad is that the regressive age-old practices prevail till date. Such social myths and taboos impact girls’ and women’s emotional states, mentality, lifestyle and, most importantly, health. As a result, in our society, young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing it. Adult women may themselves not be aware of the biological facts or good hygienic practices. Instead they pass on cultural taboos and restrictions to be observed in the absence of proper awareness of the health education.

A peculiar pattern one will observe is that all the social norms and rituals have been cleverly used and created by society to maintain a rigid gender binary and to justify discrimination against women and girls. Shame and secrecy during the menstrual cycle is nothing more than a tragically discriminatory attitude.

Menstruation is not a secret or grounds for restrictions on physical, social, and mental activities. It is not a ground for prohibiting someone from participating in normal life, for that matter. There is no scientific reason. But society doesn’t want to discuss these topics openly—neither in a public space, nor a private space. Even women keep mum about this among their friends, in the household, and with men.

In fact, menstrual taboos and rituals are an attempt to control women and suppress them in the name of religion. Society is playing games with women in the guise of rituals and tradition. The truth is that all sacred books have been written by male religious leaders, for their own selfish ends, and continuing the scary face of patriarchy.

One always has the option to interpret their holy teachings, either to exalt or subjugate women. Religious texts are full of male prophets, male saints, and male heroes. The books are written by men and interpreted by men. Thus male religious leaders have written our entire sacred books very politically. As a result, religions elevate the status of men over women, have stricter sanctions against women, and require them to be submissive.

Ironically, in the era of 4G and the ‘highest development phase of the state’, we are not ready to discuss menstruation which is directly concerns women health. There is no scientific reason for this notion to persist that menstruating women are ‘impure’ or ‘unclean’ or ‘untouchable’. This is a strategy to maintain rigid gender walls that perpetuates privilege for a few and oppression for others.

Religion is one of the basic root causes of violence against women. In a contemporary world, women are now welcomed into all major professions and other positions of authority, where women have only one ‘holy book’— the Constitution, which gives equal rights to all human beings.

Religion is the last barrier to female emancipation. Thus, it is time to take on the challenge and set sail for a new course that demands equal rights for women, men, and people of all genders and ages. In reality there are fundamentalists within every religion who actively resist change. The idea that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of traditional religions should be changed.

Very frankly, if religions wish to stay relevant for the next few centuries, they will need to make serious humanitarian modifications. If religion acts against people’s common interests and/or threatens the safety of people without cause, people of faith must ferociously overthrow that religious institution. Thus, it is not only our right to overthrow an unequal and oppressive religious intuition, but also our duty to do so.

It is a time for a watershed moment in Indian legal history and religion because, and the reforms should come from us.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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