Keep Calm, Periods Are Good! A Letter To My Younger Self

Looking back at my teenage days, I remember how everyone distanced themselves from  talking about periods, even at home. I first learned about menstruation when I was 12-years old. My mother and sister explained that this would happen every month and that it was nothing to worry about. However, I mustn’t tell my friends about it, especially boys.

I remember one day when a few women from a sanitary napkin brand came to my school to tell us more about periods. They demonstrated how one uses a sanitary napkin and even gave us a sample. I remember all the boys being really curious about the napkin as they had seen the advertisements on TV.

Growing up, I came across many stories about periods from my friends. I was told that I shouldn’t go to a temple, that I shouldn’t exercise or that I shouldn’t eat curd and dried mango as they can enlarge breasts during menstruation.

When I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD) and had to take medication for 5 years. At first, I was happy that I didn’t have to worry about periods anymore. But when I visited the doctor, she explained to me how important and natural it is to have periods. This made me wonder if other girls or women face the same issue as me.

More recently, through my work at the Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF), I broadened my perspective and knowledge of menstruation and menstrual hygiene. During one of my work-related field visit to Japla village in Jharkhand, I came across a group of women who made eco-friendly, low-cost sanitary napkins. Earlier, these women used to use old clothes during their periods, a practice they learned from their mothers as sanitary napkins were not easily available in most parts of rural India. Even if they were available, they costed at least Rs.30. Considering that most families in the area earn approximately Rs.2000-3000 a month, this was unaffordable. Especially if there were multiple women in the family. The workers (women) were sceptical of sanitary pads at first because they didn’t know how to use them.  However, I soon realised it was all due to the taboos and stereotypes that unfortunately surrounded menstruation as one of the workers explained that “these pieces of cloth were used to soak the blood and therefore locals believed that if men saw these pieces of cloth then they could die or that they could attract bad spirits.”

This experience got stuck with me. It helped me understand the issues women and girls in rural India still face. In cities, we have easy access to information through the internet, doctors, medicines, a variety of menstrual products and orientations in school. In contrast, women in villages don’t receive any of this. Many, don’t know why they have periods, or where the menstrual blood comes from. They rely entirely on older generations and have no other source of information. They have been taught to perceive menstruation as a taboo! Sometimes to the extent that all they know is that if a woman or a girl doesn’t menstruate, she is probably pregnant.

As our gender sessions continued in other locations in India on spreading awareness about menstruation and safe menstrual hygiene practices while challenging other stereotypes, the youth were ready to try out the change. They understood that using an eco-friendly cloth pad was a better choice than a piece of cloth as it was hygienic and could prevent a lot of diseases. Our discussions also led to the conclusions that a period is not a matter of shame and it is a natural process. Soon after, many of the women shared their experiences with others in the village and that sparked an increase in the use of eco-friendly sanitary napkins. A packet of 6 napkins only costed Rs.10 in most places, which was an affordable and safe option.

 

It is essential that girls and women are given the right information about menstruation and these taboos and myths are ended once and for all. In our Kadam Badhate Chalo program, a youth-led initiative to end violence against women and girls, we ensure that we educate youth and their mothers on these issues. We developed a range of modules in order to provide factual data about menstruation, which also teaches them about how they can use homemade cloth pads safely.

The need of the hour is to educate men and boys to support women during their periods. It isn’t easy to let go of traditional knowledge which has passed down from generations, but now it’s time that we challenge the patriarchal norms that have caged women in taboos related to menstruation and spread the word that ‘periods are good‘.

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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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