This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by IYERKAUSHIK. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

#PeriodPaath: An Open Letter To The Women Who Desire Change

More from IYERKAUSHIK

Editor’s Note: This post is an entry for the #Periodपाठ writing contest, a unique opportunity for you to write a letter and stand a chance of winning up to ₹30,000! The contest is organised by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC. Find out more here and submit your entry!

I am a man, and the first question I asked myself, when I learnt about this contest, was – do I really need to take part in this?

Yes, I must. As the father of a two year old boy, I write this letter in the hope that when my boy turns into a man, our thinking around menstruation would have changed – it would just be a ‘non-event’ – a body function, that happens with women, and that’s that. Nothing more, nothing less. He would not have to write open letters any more, he would not have to talk about it as a separate subject, he would not have to participate in discussions on social and cultural change regarding periods.

Then, I wondered who should I address this letter to? The rules of the contest says – an important decision maker in your locality – a local MLA, panchayat representative etc.

Three separate incidents, which I shall shortly talk about, tell me that this letter needs to be addressed to every woman – the most important decision maker in this process  – and hence I address this letter to her.

The first of the three incidents happened when I was in third or fourth standard. TV wasn’t the twenty-four hour idiot box that it is currently. Programmes were aired for a few hours in a day – it was a scarce commodity, and hence a little more valued. Families would gather around the only television set in the house (most cases a black and white tv, which looked like a wooden cabinet) to watch the weekly dose of hindi/bollywood cinema, that was aired on Saturday or a Sunday. As the telecast began at 5 o’clock, (I forget the actual time, but that’s not that relevant) and before the feature-film began, there would be ten to fifteen minutes of advertisements.

Knowing this, many families would conveniently switch on the tv only after the initial ad-routine. But adverts were fun, and I loved watching them. An advert that used to be aired regularly was that of ‘Carefree’ – a largely popular brand of sanitary napkins, those days. I remember asking my elders what was Carefree, and how it was used. I never got a clear answer. They were always evasive, distracting me from my question.

Then one day, during summer recess, I noticed a green plastic basket, under my parents’ bed. I think it used to be always there, but somehow it never interested me. That afternoon I opened the box, and found a few packets of Carefree – a few pads were lying around open. I took a pad in my hand, touched it, felt it, still didn’t know what to do with it, neither did I know whom to ask. So, I waited for my mother to return from office.

Excitedly I ran up to her, shared my find, and told her that I had found a good use for it – to wipe off any liquids that I spilled on the table. Actually, I had already used one for that purpose when I accidentally spilled some water that afternoon. Far from being happy, she was livid. I was reprimanded by both parents, and that box, which was always under the bed, vanished from there. But, I still did’t understand what was my mistake apart the obvious one of prying into a box deemed private. No one had an open conversation with me on it.

Growing up whatever information I gathered about menstruation – it was something that happened to girls, and they felt sick then – it was from some erudite male friends of mine in school. Where did that knowledge come from, and how credible was it – no one really knew. It was all hushed up boys’ talk in the toilet. And Google was not as omnipresent as it is today. There was no way to find it out by myself.

The second incident is from  my MBA school days in Pune. The first marketing research project assigned to us, 3 boys and 2 girls, was to conduct  a survey on usage of sanitary pads, and devise strategies to improve the sale for one particular brand. I distinctly remember the discomfort in our group on being assigned this project, and the relief on the faces of other classmates. The first discussion went something like this – the boys to the girls – “this is your area. You do the research, and we will help in preparing/drafting the report.”

But, the professor was smart. He divided the group into two sub-groups – one girl in each sub-group. The two sub-groups would conduct the survey separately, in two separate areas –  an area with a higher concentration of women from the middle/upper middle class, and a slightly less privileged part of the city – a slum near our college. I was part of the first group. We decided to conduct research around our college on Senapati Bapat Road. For those who are not familiar with Pune, this area has a high concentration of colleges, many of them part of the Symbiosis brand, and the students are mostly from the middle and upper-middle class.

What would you expect from them? They will be open about periods, talk about sanitary pads, which brands, their advantage/ dis-advantage, tampons – why they don’t sell etc. What we witnessed was on the contrary. Most of them were uncomfortable talking on this subject, let alone sharing their preferences. They would only talk if the girl member of our group was asking the questions. Or they would just ask us to leave the questionnaire, and wanted the responses to be anonymous.

This wasn’t that far back in time, and not in any city of India. This was Pune – cool, urban, young, unabashed and the year was 2006 or ’07. One woman we met on the street, probably in her late thirties, married to a merchant navy officer, most possibly lonely, invited the boys ( mind you, only the boys) to her apartment to talk about ‘girly’ topics, since she didn’t feel comfortable talking about it in public.

Yes, this too happened; but not the conversation on periods. Somehow we managed to gather data, and present some findings to the professor, and felt relieved that finally the project was out of our way.

The third incident occurred a couple of years later, and closer home. I got a job with a big brand, and moved to Chennai. For a few months I moved in with a cousin of mine. One day as I returned from work a little early, she opened the door, and told me, “It is such a relief you have come early today. I was so thirsty, and all the bottles are empty. Can you fill up a bottle from the kitchen please?”

I asked her if she was unwell, had fever or something that needed medical attention. If not, why did’t she just fill the bottles herself – something she did everyday.

She told me she was ‘down’, and during ‘those days’ she did not enter the kitchen. Her kitchen, in her own house! Mind you, she used to live separately, as in, not a joint family. So, not entering the kitchen wasn’t enforced on her by someone else. It was how she had grown up, internalised that she was not clean in those days, and hence, she chose to stay away from the kitchen.

Not just stay away, she even used a separate set of utensils, and washed them outside the kitchen. Having grown up in Calcutta, and in a fairly easy-going family, (agreed,we didn’t talk about periods with parents, but it was never a taboo) this was a complete shock to me.

Unless and until our women stop heaping such indignity on themselves, what change can we expect?

Even today they speak of periods in coded language – ‘my days’, or ”I am down’ etc. Napkins are still sold, at kirana shops and local medical stores, wrapped in old newspapers, just like country liquor bottles and pack of condoms, and quickly hidden from sight.

Many mothers don’t feel comfortable in speaking about their normal, healthy, body function with their children – daughters and more importantly their sons. If they don’t educate their sons, how do they expect them to hold an informed conversation with any woman – their future girlfriends and wives? No wonder so many women find out that their husbands have no clue what period is, till they learn it from them!

So, woman – till you become the change that you so wish to see, change ain’t gonna happen. Whether you like it or not – it is a fact that most cities are designed by men, most decision making roles are still held by men. While gender equality catches up, please educate the men in your families about menstruation. Feel free. Talk. Engage. Accept. Remove the shame and the stigma, that many times women impose on women, especially mothers on daughters. Lead the change till we, the men, catch up with you. May the force be with you in this journey.

Signed –

A father of a 2 year old boy.

(P.S: while sharing the incidents I did not seek explicit permission from the two important women I referred to. I should have, but I did not.. I felt sharing the incidents was important, and it is time to talk about them in the open. If I have hurt them in the process, my sincere apologies.)

#menstruation #periods #bethechange #periodpaath #fatherofaboyspeaksperiods

You must be to comment.

More from IYERKAUSHIK

Similar Posts

By Nisha Kumari

By Dipali Nathe

By Sachin AshaSubhash

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below