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Busting Period Myths: No More Shame!

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Don’t enter the kitchen

The image has been created by the author

Don’t wash your hair

Don’t touch the pickle

Don’t go near the gods

Don’t sit there

Don’t run

Don’t play

Don’t stain the bed sheets again

Don’t talk about it

Don’t tell anyone

Don’t wear new clothes

Don’t eat spicy food

Don’t be so moody

How many of these have you heard or lived with or practised?

The shame associated with periods is ingrained at a societal level. The horror of ‘DO NOTs’ is what made me despise periods initially. There were so many restrictions that I felt like a different person on those five days of the month. I was discriminated against; especially if my grandparents were visiting. The conditioning was so intense that I practised some of them even after I moved to college and got my first job. My rational brain refused to take that jump over these barriers of myths that were forced upon me through the hands of patriarchy.

I say this because, in hindsight, it feels like yet another excuse to oppress women and perpetuate inequality. Think about it, could I control it? No. Could I get rid of it? No. Could I live the way I want? No. Did I bring it upon myself? No. Then the only reason I can fathom is being born with a uterus (I am now aware that not everyone who menstruates identifies as a woman).

Many young and adolescent women still live through these superstitions. It becomes increasingly essential to create conversations around periods in our homes, schools, public spaces, colleges, workplaces, digital platforms and everywhere else where people will take note. Hence, I am taking this small step to bust some of these very prevalent myths around menstruation.

  • PMS is not real: The comment on going through ‘That time of the month’ always gets to me. Most of the menstruators go through PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) which happens in a week or two before your period starts as hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) begin to fall after ovulation. This is the reason for the different feelings of anger, sadness, happiness, and irritability before the onset of periods. PMDD or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder causes more severe symptoms than PMS, including severe depression, irritability, and tension.
  • Physical activity during periods is harmful: Light exercises during periods can be useful in reducing cramps and help my symptoms of bloating and mood fluctuations. Stretching the muscles through walking and yoga can be good ways to relax your body and mind.
  • Eating spicy food will worsen cramps: There is no correlation between spicy food and menstrual cramps. Spicy food could result in heartburn or bloating but doesn’t increase the cramps.
  • No washing hair or bathing during periods: I’ve heard different variations of this – should wash their hair on the first day or the last day or not at all. My take on this is that it can be connected to the notion of how period blood is considered impure and the reason society has built illogical concepts around it. It is believed that bathing will slow the menstrual flow, but there is nothing of this sort. Menstruation is one time when you should maintain hygiene and clean yourself to feel fresh.
  • A virgin cannot use menstrual cups: The society defines virgin as someone whose hymen is intact because she has not had intercourse. However, there can be various other reasons for a hymen to rupture like sports or other physical activities. The fact is that using a menstrual cup is not related to virginity at all. There is undoubtedly a learning curve associated with using menstrual cups, and there are multiple videos available on the internet, which can guide you through the process.
  • Period Blood is impure: “Menstruation is the only blood that is not born from violence, yet it’s the one that disgusts you the most.” – Maia Schwartz. This is a social construct and has no connection with scientific reasoning or logical understanding. Periods are a natural, normal bodily function which a menstruator goes through. The using of euphemisms rather than say ‘Period’, the guilt of being unable to work while bleeding, the fear of staining a dress, hiding of information from family and friends – everything is correlated to this notion of ‘Periods being dirty‘.

Only when I started reading and understanding more about this process and my body, have I been able to acknowledge my mistakes and push the societal barriers towards a liberating period experience. It is essential to keep reminding yourself that you are important enough to ask questions and challenge these ridiculous myths that social and cultural norms keep imposing on us.

Nearly half the world population are menstruators, and they have every right to raise their voice for better menstrual health; and feel confident about themselves and their bodies.

No More Shame! Let’s Talk, Period!

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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