#Period Paath: Menstruation Is Not A Problem, Poor Menstrual Hygiene Is!

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!

Dear Manpreet Kaur Kalka,

I am writing this letter to draw your attention towards existing Menstrual hygiene practices and for your intervention to change it for the betterment of our society.

“Menstruation is not a problem, poor menstrual hygiene is!”

I am a Social Mobiliser at Room to Read India Trust. I work with adolescent girls on Life Skill Education.

Girls often tremble when they have period the first time. BLOOD? Pain? Is it a wound? Am I going to die? Is it because I talked to a boy yesterday? Should I tell someone? How will they react? I want to run away! These are some of the reactions or experiences that most girls relate to when they get their first period!

One of my friend said she had really no idea about periods. She used to see sanitary pads at her home in obscure places and whenever she used to enquire about it, she just used to get bluntly ignored. Likewise, many girls, in order to avoid such scenario or embarrassment, seek information about menstruation from friends and Internet which is often inaccurate and incomplete.

I have also come across few people giving books to their daughters about Menstruation. But the question is why is there a need of the book in the first hand to explain the child about the natural process-Menstruation. Why can’t we explain it to our children without hesitating like we do for other body parts? I mean we cannot have real women empowerment when we hesitate to talk about the process we naturally undergo every month- PERIOD.

Menstruation is a normal physiological process to the females but sometimes it’s considered as an unclean phenomenon in the Indian society. Menstruation is rarely talked about, and it can be a source of stress and embarrassment, as well as pose a safety risk for girls and women. In addition to the roughly 2.4 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation, and the nearly 1 billion who must defecate in the open, there is a need to call attention to the often taboo topic of menstruation. The girls sometimes blame their body, biology, vagina, womb and all the elements that make them a woman. So I request you to ensure that a girl or a woman consider her body as a beautiful gift and should always want to celebrate it.

As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, out of 336 million menstruating women in India about 121 million, which is about mere 36 percent women, are using sanitary napkins. They are costly and sometimes hard to come by, women often use alternatives to disposable pads, such as sanitary rags, toilet paper, even scraps of paper or leaves.

Women have developed their personal strategies to handle menstruation-the critical period of their life. These strategies vary greatly due to the personal preferences, availability of resources, economic status, cultural tradition and beliefs, education status and knowledge about menstruation. Practices related to menstrual hygiene are of a major concern as it has a health impact; if neglected, it leads to toxic shock syndrome, reproductive tract infection and other vaginal diseases.

In my area too, Menstrual Hygiene is a matter of great concern. There are many beliefs, knowledge and practices, which in turn are all interrelated to the menstrual Hygiene Management. People consider Menstruation as dirty and polluting. They impose certain restrictions on women while cooking, working/doing chores, sexual intercourse, bathing, worshipping eating certain foods.

Appropriate disposal of used menstrual material is still lacking in our area and in some area. The women and the girls in our area dispose off their sanitary pads or other menstrual articles into domestic solid wastes or garbage bins that ultimately become a part of solid wastes.

Toilet facilities in India lack bins for the disposable of sanitary pads and hand washing facilities for menstruating women to handle menstrual hygiene. The disposing habits of girl and women change according to the place. The dustbins aren’t placed at an appropriate distance.

Also, the girls/women leave the soiled pads wrapped or unwrapped in the toilet corners. This makes the toilets dirty, breeding place for flies and mosquitoes and also unhygienic for other toilet users and cleaners. The toilets are not able to cope with the menstrual absorption materials

Scenarios in Schools

In most of the schools, teacher’s attitude is not good and supportive towards menstruating girls in schools. Our education sector plays an important role in shaping child’s growth and development by allowing them to respond to changes and challenges they are facing in day-to-day life. But many times it avoids issues related to the menstruation and menstrual hygiene management by considering it one’s personal matter and should be discussed within the house.

Menstruation is a silent issue in girl’s life which is further affected by teacher’s attitude, school environment, and infrastructure. Both male and female teachers are not ready to discuss menstruation and menstrual hygiene management with students. Teachers often skip such topics in books as they do not want any open discussion in the class or to escape from the questions asked by students.

Due to unsupportive environment in the schools, some girls hesitate in fear of any menstrual accident and blood stains on clothes seeing by others. In some reported cases, parents do not allow girls to go to schools upon reaching puberty in fear of sexual harassment by boys and male teachers in schools.

Dasra’s 2014 report states that close to 23 million girls in India drop out of school every year due to a lack of proper sanitation facilities like lack of disposal system, broken lock/doors of toilets, lack of water tap, bucket, and poor water supply. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial for a dignified, inclusive upbringing for women and girls. Ignorance, misconceptions, unsafe practices and illiteracy in the society regarding Menstruation are the root causes of many problems.

  • Therefore, comprehensive programmes that engage both men and women should be organized regularly by teachers (both males and females) in schools and by NGOs holding campaigns to  sensitize them about menstruation and menstrual hygiene management and supporting them by providing safe environment and privacy. Hence, open discussions on puberty, sex education, menstruation, and so forth should be organized by schools in every class to make students aware. This will solve their unsolved queries by providing them correct knowledge, promote social interaction, and also develop a trust relationship with fellow friends and teachers. School-level health policies should be made by school management committee to promote and educate students regarding health and safety, to ensure adequate water and sanitation facilities, and to protect girl students and staff from bullying and sexual harassment.
  •   I would also request the Government to give funds to Municipal Corporation or NGO’s for the construction of women friendly toilets. Allocation of budget in the schools of our area to support MHM studies should be conducted.
  • Eco friendly chemicals/substances should be used by manufacturers of sanitary products to stop soil and water pollution to fasten the decomposition process. Also, the distribution of menstrual products should be free of cost for all girls and women.
  • Trash bins should be made. Incinerators should be used according to eco friendly guidelines for disposal as they create less pollution. They should be installed in schools, institutions, and slum areas and at community level

Also, it’s a plea to the media to capture girls in all their beauty and make such commercials which flaunt the blood during menstruation. A red stain shouldn’t be a blot on their existence. It should be empowering for them. They aren’t aliens to have blue blood in their veins.

It’s high time the world knew that the women are not blue-blooded who whisper about menstruation but they are the ones who have surpassed such taboos and stigmas of the society. With the help of the normal red coloured blood, they are able to create life. They should now and forever roar that they bleed red!

Thanking you in anticipation!

Ritika Madan ,

Social Mobiliser

Room to Read India Trust

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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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