Why Men Need To Grow Up When It Comes To Periods

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

I still remember the day I got my first period. I was 11 (I was an early bloomer), my mom and I were visiting my dad in Delhi during the Durga Puja vacation. Like so many young girls of my generation, I had been unaware of the idea of menstruation and of what women go through every month throughout the prime or their youth, and well into middle age. So when I finally got my period, there I was, standing on the bed (to this day I don’t know why!), and crying my eyes out, for I thought I had contracted some deadly disease (my fears were confirmed when my mom told me that this was not a one-time thing and that I would bleed every month from then on). And while I was shocked and sad and confused to be thrust into god knew what, my parents ran around me in muted excitement. It was my dad who bought me my first sanitary napkins. Yes, my dad. And, believe it or not, it is my husband who takes care of my monthly necessities now.

A period for some people in our country does not constitute a biological function; it is more like a curse, something almost supernatural. Image via Getty

But even as I write this, I realize that this is a story of privilege, for a majority of men in our country, both young, old and middle-aged, are ignorant, uninformed and worse still, misinformed, about a process that is as natural as peeing and pooping, in women. Centuries of myths and superstitions have created a taboo around a menstruating woman, to the extent that a woman on her period has become an enigma, and not in a good way. A woman on her period is not evil, she is not impure, or a sensual mystery that needs to be solved. She is just a woman. The same woman she was before her uterine lining started shedding.

Periods are messy, painful, and most of us cannot wait for the monthly cycle to get over. We do not love that time of the month when our insides burn, we feel bloated, and our hormones decide to go crazy, to say nothing of the headaches, exhaustion and the unbearable cramps. Out come the heating pads and pain killers. Some of us even have frequent bowel movements during this time! No, it is not a pretty picture. And there is definitely nothing mysterious, sexual or witchy-witch about it.

What we need the most at this time is to be cared for and understood. Not to be shunned, made fun of or banished.

But this seems like a lot to ask for. For ours is a society which bans girls and women on their cycles, sends them off to makeshift huts outside the house, or in the outskirts of the village, where they are exposed to the harshness of nature, contract diseases, get bitten by snakes, are raped and even die, all because they are on their period, and essentially because they are women. Ours is a society where the lack of education makes monsters out of both men and women when it comes to “taboos” such as these.

Why just uneducated, even educated men and women are unaware of the bodily functions that cause a period! All they know are the age-old traditions that prevent a menstruating girl or woman from entering the kitchen, performing or coming in close proximity of a puja ceremony, entering a temple etc. A period for such people does not constitute a biological function; it is more like a curse, something almost supernatural.

Yes, a woman is vulnerable during these days, all the more reason why she needs to be loved and cared for. In any case, the fact that she gets through it every month only makes her stronger. And we need strong men around us to be able to appreciate that. We need people who would not coerce, dismiss, degrade, or force themselves upon us. We need fathers who would make their girls comfortable and happy, brothers who would explain to their friends about the naturalness of the process and that they should respect, rather than leer, and friends and partners who would by default create a conducive environment where the woman feels loved. I am not even saying that every woman needs special treatment during these days, but at least she does not deserve to be isolated and insulted.

What we really need is an openness about this subject, a discourse that would prepare boys and girls from an early age for what would be an indispensable part of their adult life; yes, for men too. But then again this is a thin line to cross because openly discussing women’s chums might give out wrong signals to perverts (god knows there are too many of them around us). It is best then for parents to educate and inform their kids so that no young girl has to stand on a bed and be terrified of what is to come when she finds out she is bleeding.

But that is changing now, and it is time parents took menstruation as all in the day’s work, made it a part of regular vocabulary, so that by the time the child gets into his or her teens, there is no awkwardness, and a woman on her cycle is no longer shrouded in mystery. It is crucial that the message is spread to the parents of growing children, because education—all education—starts from home. We are fortunate these days to have at least some men who look beyond the taboo and do not mind buying sanitary pads or tampons for their women. But we need more of them, in fact, we need all of them to know, to understand, and care.

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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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