The Real Stain Is Your Mindset About Menstruation

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.

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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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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