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Menstruation: A List Of Every Taboo We Need To Leave Behind Right Now

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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.

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!

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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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