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The Real Stain Is Your Mindset About Menstruation

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In the last few months, I have watched two movies based on mensuration, first of all, I was glad to see that conversation happening around the most stigmatized and a taboo topic in our Indian society. Due to the lack of proper facilities and education on mensuration, girls drop out of school; even women stop working. A large chunk of our population believes that periods are impure, dirty and even see it as a disease, all because of the ancient myths surrounding menstruation in our country.

I was so glad to watch this Oscar awarded, 26-minute documentary on a much-stigmatized topic in a woman’s life, i.e., mensuration, Period. End of the sentence. The movie beautifully depicts the real women and their views on periods.

A still from the film.

The film follows girls and women in Hapur, India and their experience with the installation of a pad machine in their village—how girls dream about their better future but are always hesitant to pursue it. One young woman, Sneha, talks about her dream of becoming a police officer. Another girl discusses the taboo of menstruation, the importance of education, and how she had to drop out of school when she got her period. Soon, all of the women they meet are determined to work on the pad machine (which will earn them more money than their prior work in the fields) and to create a micro-economy to support themselves for the very first time.

As a woman, I also feel that to really smash down the stigma attached to the periods, we need to start talking about it openly. “A Period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education”, this quote by the movie director, Rayka Zehtabchi, took the Twitter by a storm as the movie released.

Talking About Mensuration 

It is very natural and very much essential for a woman’s body to undergo this cycle. It is simply a process which takes place every month, the uterus lining inside gets thicker to prepare for a fertilized egg, if the woman becomes pregnant. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, that lining is released from the body like blood through the vagina. The bleeding is caused by the breaking of fine blood vessels within the womb as the lining detaches itself. This monthly process is called menstruation or a period. So how does it lead to impurity or unholiness? We, women, are designed like this. This is something beyond our control and very natural, I am not even talking about the pain and discomfort it brings with it.

It is a disappointing fact that although we are developing as a nation only 36% of the women use sanitary napkins in their menstruation cycles . And the remaining population? Forget about the tampoons and a menstrual cup, they are not even aware or allowed to use pads. The usage of any cotton cloth is still a preferred means of sufficing those three-days needs by almost 50% of the women, even today. The remaining want to switch to the usage of the pad, but due to family restrictions and the cost involved in purchasing the pad, which is higher than the normal cloth, they resist.

We all know about the very famous movie Padman, based on the true story of a man named Mr Muruganantham, who invented low-cost machines to make biodegradable sanitary pads. The film, inspired by his story, tried to break some serious taboos related to periods and promoting the use of sanitary napkin instead of reusing cloth.

From where should we even start? Our society has created these rules of not touching, not entering the kitchen, etc., just ask your elders, and you will be blown away by so many old tales that prove them. It is so deeply inculcated in the minds of a woman, that they feel shy and humiliated while talking about periods. This documentary shows the real picture of so many women who are hesitant even talk about or try a sanitary napkin or accept it as a natural process of producing a new life.

I still remember some years back when I had to go to the medical shop to purchase sanitary pads; I used to choose the least-crowded shop. I would silently whisper the name and shopkeeper, too, would wrap it in a newspaper and finally packing it in a black polythene, so that no one could see what drug I am going to smuggle across the streets. This is so deep-rooted that now when I go and freely ask for my brand, people around give me an awkward look, but I don’t care. I have to buy it— nobody is going to deliver it to my house.

Can you believe that many girls leave their education in between just because they cannot cope up with periods and various beliefs surrounding it, or because they have no access to better facilities? We have come a long way, at least now we have mediums and means to come out of this stereotype, and spread awareness about periods. We stay in an urbanized, modern culture and live in ignorance, but the majority of our population is so unprivileged that they don’t even think about their basic rights.

A period is not a sin or a sign of impurity, we can’t let a few days of our entire month take away the many opportunities from our life. We cannot let girls in our country feel uncomfortable because of the lack of menstrual hygiene products and begrudge a natural phenomenon.

The red spot on a girl’s dress is not the stain we should be talking about—thinking of it as something unnatural, unholy and raising your eyebrows over it is what we need to get over. Let’s not sit on this thought; we can spread awareness right from our house, maids, relatives, friends to people living in rural areas. We can also join campaigns, talk about it, spread the word, donate or even start your own awareness project. Any step is a step towards betterment.

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  1. CA Satpal Yadav

    Nice article n facts ?

    1. Priyanka Nair

      Thank you for reading.

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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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