How I Tore Down Norms By Visiting A Temple On My Periods

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.

A cis woman bleeds 5-7 days a month from 10-50 years of age. Approximately, we bleed for 3000 days throughout our lives. It is a normal physiological process within our body, and we don’t have a choice about it. Despite that, menstruation is such a huge problem, both socially and economically.

800 million girls are menstruating right now in the world. Yet, the problems around it are not addressed. 20-30% of girls in developing nations miss school during periods. About a quarter of girls in India drop out of school once they start menstruating. The facts and figures make for a long list. In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the lack of access to sanitation facilities, like toilets and clean water. Several schools in the least developed nations do not have adequate sanitation.
Secondly, the high tax imposed on sanitary products makes them unaffordable for a majority of sections in many countries. Most countries of the world charge a fairly high tax on tampons, pads etc. Around 65% of women cannot afford menstrual products. The inability to afford menstrual hygiene products due to financial constraints is known as period poverty.

Besides the economic perspective to the problems, what plays an even greater role is the social factor. The shame and stigma around it, coupled with a lack of education and awareness, has made menstruation a huge taboo.

‘That time of the month, shark week, aunt flow, on your rags, the flowers, period”. There are more than 69 different terms that we use globally to describe menstruation other than the word itself. All around the world girls, women, transgender and intersex people suffer from the stigma of menstruation through bullying, cultural taboos and discrimination.

Across the world, menstruating individuals are subject to various kinds of restrictive and discriminatory practices. A deep-rooted cultural belief that they are unclean and impure during menstruation has been pervasive, leading to isolation.

One such common and rampant practice in Nepal is Chhaupadi. It is an ancient Hindu ritual where women are banished from their homes and forced to stay in secluded huts during menstruation. This kind of treatment is a cultural custom in Nepal and reflects the social stigma attached to menstruation, that remains too common today. In Achham alone, at least 12 women have died while following Chaupadi since 2007, as of 2018 figures.

Besides such extreme instances of inhuman treatment meted out to menstruating individuals, there are more subtle practices normalised even in urban homes.

So, here’s a little story about my encounter with my bleeding vagina.
I started menstruating when I was 10. I knew nothing about it. I panicked slightly and called my mother. She calmed me down and explained what was going on. I grew up in a home where my father would buy us pads and even my brother would have normal conversations about it. While I was menstruating, I would do everything that I usually do, except visit temples. Being someone who is not overtly religious, I never bothered to question this one practice. I followed it for the longest time, until a couple of years back.

When I associated myself with the campaigns for tax exemption on menstrual products in India, I got an insight into how large the problem was. I read up so much about it, spoke to people and organisations, and thereafter, advocated for it, through my platforms as well.

That was the time I thought the silent operation of such a practice by myself, is, in a way contributing to the perpetuation of the stigma. I spoke to my mother, explained to her why it needed to be stopped. By the end of my conversation with her, she agreed with me. The first time I went to a Kali temple while I was menstruating, that tiny act of rebellion felt so liberating.

In an all-girls’ school with female faculty, we would always whisper the word ‘periods’ or hide our pads while walking down the corridors. It was not something we were told to do but we had just internalised this behaviour. We were conditioned by the ‘blue liquid’ shown on ads or hushed up conversations.

That continued till one day, I screamed “periods”, when someone asked me why I was feeling unwell. I started carrying the pad in my hand, without sliding it inside a pocket or covering it in a piece of paper. Initially, other girls would stare but then gradually, that became normal.

The subtle internalisation in urban homes, educational institutions, gross discrimination and stigma in other places, (mostly rural), the inaction by government policy, and lack of infrastructure; all of it is a part of the problem that is fuelling the denial of basic human rights to people across the world.

Not having access to clean water, toilets, menstrual products; having to use alternative means like rags, sand, ash, and hay, is making women vulnerable to reproductive health risks. The sigma is compelling young people to drop out of school and miss school during periods – this is denying them their right to education. Extreme practices, like staying in period huts are claiming lives. Transgender and intersex people who menstruate do not have access to toilets. A person being denied proper facilities for their menstrual health is a denial of the right to a dignified life.

 

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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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