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10 Things You Can’t Ignore When Talking About Period Positivity

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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.

Being period positive (a campaign started by Chella Quint) is to destigmatise menstruation to engage in a positive dialogue around it. At no point should your period positivity be such that it forcefully sugarcoat the difficulties it comes with. It should only be spoken about such that no experience is glossed over because, for many, menstruation is a traumatic experience for various reasons. A period positive movement can never work if it does not include practical problems of caste, class, and gender which affect resource availability and hygiene maintenance.

1. Why Do We Need It?

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The need for discussion around menstruation is essential because to date, 23% of girls in India drop out of school during menarche. Religious conservatism also leads to women being period shamed. A very recent incident was that of 68 female students taken to the bathroom, stripped down, and checked for menstruation at Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI) in Bhuj, Gujarat because they were supposedly breaking period rules.

The said rules barred students on their periods from touching people, entering the kitchen and temple, sitting with others during meals. They were also made to wash their dishes. This is monitored via the register maintained by the hostel where menstruating students have to enter their names. It is a college run by the Swaminarayan sect, a rich, conservative Hindu religious group.

‘Progressive’ discussions around period, especially in India, cannot be limited to the exaggerated representation of the active, upper-class cisgender female in stainless pants. That picture leaves out 88% of Indian women with no access to functioning washrooms or menstrual products. It leaves out women who do not menstruate because of PCOS or any other health complications. It leaves out different gender identities who menstruate but are doubly stigmatised.

2. How To Be Period Positive?

Now that we have understood the intersectionality required for a period positive environment, let’s start at the very basics of understanding gender identity.

Based on gender identity, people can be:

  • Cisgender male or female, who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Transgender male or female, who identify with the sex opposite to the one assigned to them.
  • Gender fluid
  • Agender
  • Gender non-conforming
  • There can be more varying identities across the gender spectrum depending upon individuals.

3. Who Experiences Menstruation?

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No, the answer is not women. Menstruation is a biological function attached to the sexual anatomy and not the gender identity of a person. It occurs in every individual with a typically functioning uterus and vagina, which includes not just cisgender women but transgender men and gender-nonconforming individuals. Intersex people often experience all symptoms leading up to menstruation but do not bleed if they do not have an open vagina.

Making it a celebration of being a woman is not only exclusionary but also causes practical issues relating to a lack of gender-neutral menstrual products that could cater to every menstruating individual. Now that we have established that it is not just cisgender women who menstruate let’s take down the other stigmas, one at a time.

4. Is Period Blood Impure?

Period blood and a person on their period are not impure or diseased. Period blood is not toxic blood. The endometrium sheds itself, which is why bleeding occurs. It is 35% blood combined with endometrial tissue, cervical and vaginal mucus, and microbes. The components of period blood are the same as venous/arterial blood.

So it is not toxic unless a person has been diagnosed with a blood-borne illness, in which case it will hold true for blood flowing out of any other part of their body.

Any cloth stained in period blood should be treated similar to other bloodstained material; instead of discarding, burning or burying it (practised by people who do not access to menstrual products and are forced to use cloth, rags, hay, and even leaves). It should be sanitised before re-use. Likewise, the person handling blood should sanitise themselves and maintain hygiene as they would in any other case.

If a stained cloth has to be discarded, it should definitely be cleaned or appropriately wrapped, marked with a red dot; else it exposes sanitary workers to health risks because they encounter it during waste segregation, mixed with other garbage. This is also why clean and hygienic disposal of menstrual products is a MUST.

5. Menstruation, If At All Discussed Should Have A Codeword

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A period is a period— the end of the story. There is no need to speak about it in whispers like one speaks of Lord Voldemort. It should not be thought of as a shameful or be glorified as a qualifier of womanhood. It is what it is, a biological process that doesn’t relate to any societal norm and is felt subjectively.

It needs care and hygiene maintenance which is hindered by taboos because taboos spread misinformation and glosses over the essential things to be known by all irrespective of gender. That this has been turned into a stigma is why we have vague and humiliating euphemisms around it across the country and the world. The most common one I have heard growing up is ‘shorir kharap‘ (illness).

Discussing periods helps menstruators open up with issues preventing late detection of different health complications, be it physical or mental. It also brings forth experiences from all people who menstruate across the various sections of society which can then share their needs in a safe space which can create constructive solutions.

6. PMS Feelings Are Not Real; They’re Just Hormones

Premenstrual Syndrome is what occurs before the menstruation starts. It causes both physical (bloating, pain in breasts and abdomen, heightened energy or fatigue, increased/decreased libido) and emotional (irritability, sadness, anxiety, cravings, and even affection) changes because of hormonal changes the body experiences through ovulation and the period. When people get PMS, the drastic mood fluctuations are caused because of reduced oestrogen, which is also a source of serotonin, the happy hormone.

While feelings (good or bad) might take on a magnified shape, they are still valid feelings not to be nullified. Stop using ‘that time of the month’ as an excuse to discard people’s feelings. PMS varies from person to person, so try being observant and sensitive; it makes things easier for both those on their periods and those around them.

7. How Bad Can Period Cramps Be?

The medical term for it is dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea happens to people who have abnormal contractions of the uterus due to chemical imbalance in the body. Some people experience cramps severely enough that it makes them unable to perform regular chores.

Extremely severe period cramps are also related to endometriosis where people pass out due to the pain. Thus, period cramps should never be simply ignored as they could be symptoms of other underlying health conditions like Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), uterine fibroids, abnormal pregnancy (miscarriage, ectopic), infections, tumours, or polyps in the pelvic cavity.

8. Stains Do Not Burn Eyes, And Humans Do Not Bleed Blue

Menstruating individuals, especially trans men and the gender-nonconforming, feel the increased need to hide the blood. Menstruation already takes a toll on mental health and added to it the experience of severe anxiety over blood stains always keeps people on their guard. Sleeping becomes a task because one is too anxious about staining oneself. After all, despite being a natural process, menstruation has never been normalised.

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Every period advertisement looks like pouring blue curacao on a napkin—everything that a period is not. This representation stems from the same stigma that causes anxiety amongst menstruators. It also shows unnecessary mountain climbing in pants so white they would make Jitendra jealous. And just like in movies, the white remains spotless, wondrously defeating both the mud, soil, dust and the blood. While it is great that a menstrual product is trying to guarantee the least amount of leakage, staining is also fine.

Moreover, it happens to everyone, no matter the product because neither flow nor movement is consistent. Stains can be cleaned, and life can go on. So people need to stop making a big deal about period stains, reassure individuals and one can only hope there comes a day our blue blood turns red on-screen.

9. Period Sex And Masturbation Is Shameful

Wrong as the menstrual cycle is connected to the sexual health of a person. Being aware of our sexual needs helps us maintain good sexual health. It makes us aware of our body which makes detection of issues related to sexual health easier. Masturbation and sex are taboos, especially when it comes to women and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Hushing discussions creates a lack of information leading to misconceptions.

Period sex is not something that has to be strictly avoided. It can be practised by people interested in exploring it but with adequate protection because pregnancy and STIs are still a concern. Masturbation during menstruation is also fine, and in fact, orgasms often relieve cramps. There is more than one way to masturbate and more than one type of orgasm. It is only natural to explore one’s own body. Self-pleasure is the most honest form of pleasure we can give ourselves. So, be it sex or masturbation, no one has the right to come between a person and their body.

10. Period Rules

Ditch the stigma. Count your new rules and throw in more:

Period is natural.’
It is not just a cis-woman thing.’
People on their period are not dirty, impure, outcast, or diseased.’
It can be discussed out loud.’
Everyone should have access to menstrual hygiene.’
Repeat after me. Period.

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

You must be to comment.
  1. Dipanjana Guha

    Sending you hugs all the way for writing things that people need to learn so badly. For some stigmas need to break if we want to dwell in a better society. Thank you for the wonderful article ♥️

    1. Rupsa Nag

      Thank you so much for your keen reading and kind comments.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 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.”

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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.

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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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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
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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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