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Menstrual Myths And Taboos: A Narrative From A Village In Madhya Pradesh

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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.

Interacting with women coming from rural areas gives a very different perspective and understanding of the issues. During my stay in the village for a good one and a half months allowed me to interact with women around menstruation. It did not come as a rude shock to me when I learned women do not prefer to use sanitary pads and choose to use a piece of cloth instead.

Myth, Taboo, And Stigma Discourage Them From Using Sanitary Pads

Myths, taboos, and stigma around menstruation are not different in rural spaces than urban spaces. Yet, the restriction during the times of menstruation is a little relaxed in rural villages than in the urban upper-middle-class families. In both spaces, the myths associated with menstruation cannot be ignored.

In the village I was at, women are considered “polluted” during periods. They are not allowed to enter into the temple, not allowed to touch pickle during but, unlike few communities and within upper-middle-class households, women still work in the kitchen and the field. I vividly remember, while growing up in my urban city, my friends were prohibited from entering into the kitchen or work during periods.

During my interaction with Rekha didi (name changed) around menstruation and use of the product during periods, in a whisper, she shared, she uses cloth. In my head, I thought the reasons she would spell out would be the cost and lack of availability of sanitary pads, which she did spell out but, one of the reasons for the lack of use of sanitary pads was the myth associated with it. It is believed, if a snake smells the menstrual blood, then it would affect a woman’s reproductive system, and therefore, it would be difficult for her to conceive in the future. Thus, even if a woman uses a sanitary pad, she washes it before disposing of it.

A still from the documentary ‘Period. End of sentence.’

Cloth Over Sanitary Pad

Rekha didi and many other women avoid using sanitary pads because of lack of availability in the village and the hassle of disposing of sanitary pads which come along with their use. In villages, they have to wash the sanitary pad before burning it. Therefore, they clean the cloth pad and dry it off. The shame associated with the sanitary pad forces them to dry the clothes in complete secrecy. They put these clothes under the wet clothes to dry them off. In a day, they change the cloth pads twice a day. Although the use of clothes helps to reduce the waste generated due to sanitary pad significantly, the use of cloth requires proper care. It should be washed and dried in adequate sunlight. The stigma which comes along with menstruation forces them to keep it away from everyone gazes, and they hesitate to put these clothes under direct sunlight. Further, the cloth used should be of cotton and should be clean.

Lack Of Availability Of Sanitary Pads

One looks around, and it is easy to notice that none of the shops in the village sells sanitary pads. Rekha didi herself runs a shop, and she does not sell them. One of the reasons is the lack of demand, and the second is the taboo associated with it. Also, she herself is not comfortable selling it in the shop. For these women, the nearest shop to avail of a sanitary pad is roughly 12 kilometres away. It isn’t easy for them to buy it within the village itself.

Education, Awareness, And Availability

The women in rural areas are not comfortable talking and discussing menstruation. They maintain secrecy around it. Therefore, it is essential to spread awareness with women, adolescents, and young children around the risk associated with unhygienic practice during the periods. The importance to follow extra precaution during the use of clothes.

In addition, the availability of sanitary pads at schools, Anganwadis and CHCs/PHCs would also tackle the issue of accessibility. These sanitary pads should be distributed free of cost because one of the primary reasons for lack of use of sanitary pad is the affordability. The government must step up to ensure last-mile delivery.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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