My School Refused To Talk About Periods, And I Became A ‘Period Criminal’

Even after getting my education from an elite school in the urban landscape, I never knew that I would turn out to be a criminal. Yes, you heard me right. A period criminal.

I will now begin my story without any more fuzz. So I completed my education, like most people, from a decent school, and I thought my education had taught me everything that I needed in order to understand this world, but I was dead wrong.

When I entered college, I happen to interact with the other gender in an open environment. But, I realized that my awareness about social issues and gender studies was so inadequate, and that gap between my formal education and reality is what made me a period criminal.

So, this is what happened. My school never gave us any awareness ‘session’ on menstrual hygiene, apart from the 8th chapter in our biology textbook, from the 10th standard. Girls were given different ‘workshops‘ but we were not told about it. Neither were we told what role we play as a stakeholder in all this, or how we should perceive menstruation as a part of ‘womanhood‘. This led to the development of very dizzy concepts in my mind.

Every time my female friends talked to me about their well-being, they would simply say “My stomach is hurting” and I had only one response, “Why don’t you go to a doctor?”

And, now that I look back, I realise that my comments were wrong at so many levels. Girls around me tried every possible to make me understand that ‘It is that time of the month‘, but I was unable to grasp those words, and that made me a criminal in people’s eyes. I came off as an insensitive and rude person who has no consideration towards women’s bodies.

But, WHO Was To Blame?

For a few years, initially, I blamed myself. I thought that it was on me to know all of this from the internet and through grapevine gossip. But, me being very a personal and reserved person when it came to ‘intimate’ topics ruled out the possibility of getting to know about it from my peers. Therefore, I took the help of Google Baba, and that somehow led to very wrong and half-baked information. Now, at this point, I knew something about periods and the female body, but as they say, half-knowledge is dangerous, and this half-knowledge caused a series of embarrassing setbacks again.

According to the internet, PMS usually leads to irritation and annoyance in the female mood. Now, taking all the internet masala as my guiding cornerstone, I thought I was a know-it-all. But, again, the results were the same. I will share a small incident with everyone. There was a time when my best friend was irritated and going by my collected research, I happen to say “Are you PMSing?” Oh gosh, how she responded tore me up again. Continuous failure to understand the small things made me lose self-worth and I began to introspect.

Then, after a lot of self-guilt and contemplation, I moved onto analysing the turn where I went wrong in my life that brought me to this. And after a lot of research and soul-searching and internet gyaan (knowledge) and reading the official guidelines on ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management’ (MHM) issued by the Union government, I came to only one conclusion, that it was the fault of our education system, not even just my school.

I was not a criminal, in fact, I was a victim of our imbalanced and academic-focused school curriculum. And, I know there are a lot of guys who can relate to my story because we all went through basically the same schooling. We don’t give our children a proper knowledge of things and expect them to learn everything on their own.

Parents shun away from awkward conversations, leaving their part of the responsibility on the shoulders of school. And then, schools are busy with academic competitions or shushing away important things in the name of ‘preserving the decorum‘.

To this day, I remember that moment exactly when one of my female friends told me “You are not open and don’t understand things.” This broke me.

It may sound a very normal statement to anyone, but this shook my whole world. I suffered an existential crisis because of these words. I couldn’t believe that even after spending 20-plus years of life with a good education and tackling social issues, I would end up being an idiot. I questioned myself, what kind of a well-informed person I am if people see me as an individual who doesn’t even get basic things.

It was such a self-humiliating journey. I hope future generations don’t have to go through that and they come off as sensitive and aware individuals. therefore I urge our schools to either implement the menstrual hygiene guidelines in its entirety or make MHM as a mandatory subject for all.

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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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