Did You Know About Menstruation Before You Had Your First Period?

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

It was a sunny afternoon. I was returning from school, hopping on the staircase. My mother noticed a stain on my school uniform and rushed me to the bathroom. I found it unnecessary. My uniform was always stained – you know, school times! But what I actually saw was the culmination of what my mother was trying to prepare me for. My first period had occurred! I was given a sanitary napkin. I still remember how uncomfortable I felt.

My mother rushed to the sweets shop to buy me my favourite gulab jamun. My father called me up and congratulated me. I was still shivering. My mother’s friend cooked me my favourite pav bhaji. My parents were celebrating, while I was still wondering how to respond to the whole situation.

It’s been 14 years since then, which means 168 menstrual cycles. In school, I would have muscle cramps. I would writhe in pain, while my male classmates would ridicule me for crying out. Gradually, I was able to bear the pain and I grew stronger. Ultimately, isn’t that what all women are expected to be?


Illustration: Claripharm.

Well, this is my story.

But did you know that 71% of girls in India had no knowledge of menstruation before their first period? According to a report by FSG supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, schoolgirls in Jaipur, Rajasthan report their dominant feelings to be shock (25%), fear (30%), anxiety (69%), guilt (22%), and frustration (22%). They weren’t prepared by the elders about what lay ahead. The story in other parts of India stays the same.

Jasleen, a post-graduation student at Ambedkar University narrated, “I got my first period when I was in 6th standard. I didn’t even know what it was. I was completely unaware. It was more a negative surprise (as it involved stomach cramps) other than being positive. But now when I look back, I feel that periods is something special which can only be experienced by the female gender.”

Growing up, I have known friends who weren’t allowed to touch specific objects or visit religious places, when on periods. I still shake my head in horror at the reality that plagues lakhs of women across India.

Menstrual health is such a taboo in our society that I had to muster courage to write this article – because we are used to speaking about periods in hushed tones. So the above statistics come as no surprise to me. We carry our sanitary napkins to the washroom as if we are smuggling drugs. When this is the norm, how do we even begin to explain leave or work from home during our periods to our male bosses?

Such is the irony – menstruation is the path to new life, but it is discussed in secret and with shame. It is attached to countless superstitions, often perpetuated by women themselves.

Maybe there’s hope. Maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe there will be change, when societies collectively start addressing menstrual health for the sake of women who suffer without proper healthcare. I do think that it will begin when we start talking about it in public without fear, such as on prime time news debates, instead of just ‘women-oriented’ television shows.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Kelsey Schwartz/Instagram.
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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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