The Swachch Bharat Mission is one of the most promoted goals in India. When we talk about this mission we think about clean roads, clean public places, toilets, Oscar level acting by celebrities and politicians sweeping the floor, etc. But we always tend to ignore one of the core elements of this mission – menstrual hygiene! It’s not our fault, the government and those in influential positions ignore it too!
But why is this topic ignored? It is as normal as breathing! I fail to find the logic behind stigmatising this matter. It is because of this reason people and specially women don’t say it directly but indirectly like,“happy birthday aaya hai,” (it’s your birthday today) “woh wale din” (that time of the month) and what not!
If you think menstruation is gross than don’t forget that this ‘impure’ blood is utilised for the development of a child (from zygote to foetus) inside the mother’s womb! When fertilisation doesn’t happen, the same blood lining breaks down and get released from the vagina, the process of which is called menstruation. Oh no! Did I just make some people feel bad about themselves? But that’s the reality, so it is better to change your mentality as soon as possible!
Recently, (only after the movie Padman in 2018) people from the film industry and sportspersons have started talking about this matter but politicians still don’t want to talk about it openly. Of late, a scheme called Suvidha was launched by the central government, one of many such schemes launched by various governments. But the main problem is with the quality. The quality of those sanitary napkins are so bad that women rather prefer cloth because they think that it’s better to use a cloth rather than having rashes and infections!
Recently, the government declared sanitary napkins and tampons to be tax free. I appreciate the step but still wonder why according to the National Family Health Survey – 4 (2015-16), 62% of the women (15-24 yrs) use cloth and 16% use locally prepared napkins! It’s because of the lack of awareness and culture of the sanitary napkins and other modern alternatives. Most of my elder family members still use cloth because they follow orthodox culture and don’t want to change their mindset. This shows that it is not always about affordability.
Talking about culture, our TV advertisements are to be blamed the most. They never show the reality. They always show blue liquid instead of red! In the advertisement, the conversation is only between women, they never involve men! How will the society change with this kind of approach?
A 2014 report by an NGO Dasra titled Spot On! shows that 71% girls remain unaware of their own menarche because parents or elders don’t even talk to them beforehand. The situation becomes worse when at that time no female member is around to guide her! You all must see this short film and learn how to deal with a girl’s menarche.
Since we are talking about menstruation and menstrual hygiene, it is also very important to talk about the way our school dealt with it. During school days, we all remember asking our friends “kuch laga toh nahi skirt mein?” (have I stained my skirt?) or running up to a female teacher in the middle of class, which boys immediately understood to be an issue regarding periods. If the class was being taught by a male teacher, the situation was worse!
Or the unfortunate sports session in which a girl sitting idle around the corner implied she was menstruating, and was bullied by others! First of all, why were we not comfortable with boys in this regard? And so what if there were stains on our skirts! Shouldn’t boys be sensitised by the school or by their parents? Not only boys, but girls need to be sensitised too!
My friend once told me that boys in her school used to spill red ink on benches that were assigned to girls, just to laugh at what would follow! This is the mentality surrounding menstruation!
The quality of sanitary napkins given by the schools is the worst. They give the cheapest sanitary pads available. Forget even about the quality, majority of the schools don’t even have washrooms and even if they do, they are not hygienic. The National Family Health Survey – 4 (2015-16) also shows that there is a direct connection of the dropout rate of girls with menstruation. The 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled Spot On! also shows that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include availability of sanitary napkins and logical awareness of menstruation.
But the situation isn’t great in the case of those using sanitary napkins either. Most wear a sanitary pad throughout the day without changing it which leads to serious diseases, or they don’t know how to wear it properly which leads to leakage.
Many women don’t even have the knowledge of the phases of menstrual cycle. Hence, they either often fail to plan a child properly or enter an unwanted pregnancy. Family members (specially the male members) fail to understand the concept of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cramps, etc.
How can a conversation about menstruation be complete without talking about illogical, superstitious beliefs! We all know the second class status which some households give to us. Fortunately, my parents were never like that but some of my relatives were. The most common ones were, “yahan sofa pe mat baitho,” (don’t sit on the sofa) “kitchen mein mat jaao,” (don’t enter the kitchen) “puja room mein mat jao,” (don’t go to the temple room) and more.
In some households, women are not allowed to even get out of a room or touch other members! We all believe that God is one though manifestations are different, right? But how come Jesus Christ doesn’t have a problem with periods but other manifestations do?!
It is a blessing to have periods. Ask those who suffer from menstrual problems and you’ll know the value of this beautiful and completely natural phenomenon! Get over the orthodox mindset and think about it scientifically. Create awareness around yourselves and sensitise people, specially men.
We need the involvement of more and more men in this matter. I urge the government to promote this openly and focus upon the quality of napkins. I also urge film producers and directors to show these things openly in movies or advertisements. Influential people also need to play an active role to normalise it. At last I would say, why do you think menstruation is gross when you, yourselves were born out of the same blood!