#PeriodPaath: Break The Stigma, Improve Menstrual Inequity

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To : Mr. Narendra Modi

Sub : Fighting Menstrual Inequity

Respected Sir,

Period.

Period.

Period.

Period.

Period.

Period.

Period.

Period.

Period.

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Period.

That is the number of times that an average woman menstruates in a year.

That into 40 is the number of times an average woman menstruates in a lifetime.

Unfortunately, this is also the number of times women often feel embarrassed, humiliated and question their capabilities because they are on their Menstrual Cycle. I am simply a high-school student and an activist for Menstrual Equity, and through running my own non-profit – FullStopp Organisation ( www.fullstopp.in ) am trying to improve awareness and access to Menstrual Products. Here are the issues related to this topic that I would like to shed light on –

1) Lack of Awareness – According to a study conducted in 2019, less than 50% of the girls in India know about their period before getting their first one. An even lesser percentage know the scientific reasoning behind Menstruation. In interactions with girls from underprivileged backgrounds, I found that many even consider it a ‘curse from god’ for their ‘sins as a woman’. These misconceptions perpetuate negative attitudes towards this topic and lead to an increasing cycle of decline.

To deal with this, we NEED to make Sex and Reproductive Education a compulsory part of schooling. This should come without segregating girls from the boys in a class since it is important for both girls AND boys to know their biological functioning, in turn allowing them to respect each other’s bodies.

Awareness should not be limited to teaching children about the anatomy of their body but also about things such as maintain an iron-rich diet on their cycle and burst myths such as girls should not play sport on their periods etc.

2) Lack of Access – Even if women are aware of Menstruation, according to studies, over 70% of the women in India lack access to Menstrual Products. For many, it is a decision between buying tonight’s dinner or Sanitary Pads. I have firsthand seen girls resort to old rags, newspapers and socks due to a lack of funds. This opens them to catching fatal urinary tact infections. In an age where our country is thriving to achieve gender equality, how can we claim to do so in it’s truest sense when horrific limitations are still put on girls restricting them from going to school, partaking household activities and participating in the workforce.

To deal with this, we NEED to subsidise Menstrual Products and distribute them for free to those who cannot afford it. If meals can be provided for free, why not sanitary pads too? In all public spaces we find that toilet paper is free – so why not sanitary pads too?

3) Negative Environmental Impart – Sanitary Pads are made of non-biodegradable plastic that lead to a heap of unmanaged waste. Only when this waste is treated properly will our country be able to achieve our mission of ‘Swacch Bharat’. Speaking from experience, many girls are used to ‘flushing’ their pads down the toilet. This often leads to clogging of toilets, sewerage systems and drains, and when burned, release toxic fumes like dioxins and furans that are harmful for users and the environment.

To deal with this, the government should promote the use of eco-friendly reusable cloth pads that last upto 3 years and are made of biodegradable materials – better both for the planet and for themselves. In addition, alternatives such as Menstrual Cups should also be encouraged.

Moreover, awareness campaigns teaching people how to correctly segregate and dispose of their menstrual waste from their other waste is key.

4) Negative Attitudes – Since a young age, I have been taught to speak in a hushed tone and use code words such as ‘ that time of the month ‘ when addressing this topic. This reluctance of talking about Periods immortalises the pain, discrimination and mental effect that a culture of silence and shame has on a woman. Girls from all walks of life feel ostracised and have their dignity hampered. 70% of the mother’s in India still consider menstruation to be ‘’dirty’ and ‘impure’.

Conversations around this naturally occurring phenomena need to be normalised. I dream of a day where I can free the tampon from the underside of my sleeve and wave them in the air as I march the corridors in school. The world would be a better place if men were as ashamed of rape as they are of periods.

We NEED to run awareness campaigns that facilitate healthy attitudes towards this topic and make it as normal to talk about periods as talking about last night’s dinner.

We also need to ban advertisements such as ‘Whisper’ which send ambiguous messages and hint that Periods are something that need to be ‘hidden’ and ‘ashamed of’.

Producers of Menstrual Products need to be held accountable for the impact their advertisements have on perpetuating the Menstrual taboo.

While countries such as USA still tax menstrual products in many states, our country abolished the pink tax – and this is surely something I as citizen of India take immense pride in!

It is such a pleasure to see the Indian Government take such substantive steps such as the MHS Scheme to improve Menstrual Health in India over the past few years. We just need to ensure that women are aware of the existence of such schemes by continued action in this field. Even on the global field, achieving Menstrual Equity is a precondition for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 12 which India is so committed towards.

The reason I am writing straight to you, Mr. Prime Minister, is because of the significance of this issue. Improving Menstrual Health in our country should be of utmost importance and priority due to the impact it has on the the labour force participation rate, the economy, the gender-equality index and most importantly the well-being of citizens. I am sure that with continued policies and action we can win this fight against Menstrual Inequity. I am sure that ‘We, The People of India,’ are able to ‘Secure Equality of Opportunity’ that our Preamble confirms to all women, starting from the education to the work sector.

So,

Period.

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This is the number of times that we NEED to ensure women are empowered, feel confident, and know that whatever men do, they can do bleeding. It’s time to Green the Red. Period.

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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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