I am a Master’s graduate, and I know what menstruation is. But A year and a half ago, during my first year of Master’s, I was not completely introduced to periods or menstruation. I never cared about ‘mahawari’ (period) in Hindi, in class 8 and 9. Even our teachers never discussed it. I had read some magazines about periods in Hindi, provided to my Aunt, who is an Aanganwadi worker. But, at that time, nobody taught us anything about periods. As a result, I never understood the advertisements for pads shown on TV.
During my masters, I was introduced to a female friend. She explained the words period and menstruation to me. She made me understand how periods are related to the overall health of a woman. After that, I have been introduced to ‘Restless Development’, where I got residential training on SDG-5, i.e. Gender Equality and Family Planning. During the training, I felt confident to talk freely about periods and menstruation.
I have to say that I went to a rural school for secondary education. I never understood the term period on my own, and it was never explained to me by my school, parents, or friends. When I look back into my childhood, I remember that women used pieces of cloth and would dry them under their clothes; such as sarees or petticoats. This was done so that nobody could see what the cloth had been used for. Also, they used to wash them in the dirty water of the pond. They didn’t wash the pieces of cloth with the hand pump or water from the nearby well.
Now, I realise why most of the women in my village, and a neighbouring village, including the women in my own home, suffered from uterine and vaginal infections. Furthermore, in my village, every 2-3 women out of 10 out undergo a hysterectomy, (removal of the uterus). Child Marriage, early child pregnancy, birth to more than 3- 4 children are other reasons for such infections.
Recently, I visited my village and my mother organised a meeting with some women from a self-help group. I started talking about periods and saw that many of the women responded by bowing their heads or smiling. After some time, I found out that they use the same cloth pieces every month. None of them has ever seen a sanitary pad, and majority have never even heard of one. I talked to Sahiya Didi, an Anganwadi worker, and a Jal Sahiya of my village. She told me that the government provides free pads for adolescents through them, but the higher authority of the Block never shared these, and thus, they were never distributed.
The women in the village feel ashamed to talk to men about periods. But I started talking about it, with the help of my mother, because she is a Jal Sahiya and also leading five self-help groups of more than 70 women. It is very difficult to make them understand about these terms because the women in my village are almost illiterate. And even if someone is literate enough to understand, religious and patriarchal beliefs become a barrier in their learning.
*Feature image for representational purposes only.