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TVs And Taboos: Mainstream Media’s Hand In Promoting Menstrual Disparity

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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.

Before I learnt why women have breasts, I learnt that women are objectified for having them. Before I learnt that all women have stretch marks, I learnt that they are undesirable. And, before I learnt that menstruation is a regular aspect of being a woman, I learnt that girls not attending school regularly or at all is acceptable.

In all of the scenarios, I never felt the need to ask my parents or peers any questions, after all the message was loud and clear: Only women who are of use to or attractive to others are valid. So before I could learn about breasts and vaginas, I learnt about the intangible organs like family’s honour, society’s dignity and a man’s pleasure sexually or otherwise.

And before we blame said family, society or man, I say we blame the media. After all, it was not a boy that told me I was made to please him but the 20,000 adverts from deodorant adverts targeting those boys.

On one end actresses are proclaimed boldly for doing item songs and hailed for calling it a choice, on the opposite end of the spectrum, are our female leaders and politicians who get slut-shamed for wearing jeans (in the case of Malala Yousufsai).

Furthermore, in the case of Indian female politicians, they are sexualised, leered at and reduced to white noise by their contemporaries and peers at the slightest hint of the fact that they are women and that undeniable fact is considered their weakness.

In 2019 when the first-ever advert on pads and other menstrual products showing red blood instead of the usual blue liquid aired in Australia following the footsteps of its British counterpart the backlash was immediate. It was considered a woman’s private business, deemed inappropriate for children for it led to their sexualisation, showing women bleeding is wrong and so many others to the point of becoming one of the most complained about advertisements.

You won’t see American Pie, Grand Masti or any ‘sex comedy’ gaining such a reaction with the audience and lawmakers mum on it to the point it is a thriving genre. But when it comes to the portrayal of women genuinely, it is suddenly disgusting, vulgar or inappropriate for children to see women reduced to the pedestal of an actual human being or raised beyond to one instead of being a goddess or sex object.

In India, a common trend amongst many ads related to menstrual products involves focusing on how by wearing the product advertised, you will turn into superwoman. This lens is not just grossly false but also highly pressure inducing for women.

Periods aren’t a speck of blue liquid that an overpriced and over-taxed pad can collect. They include blood and clots, mild to extreme physical pain, sweating, fever, mental and emotional upheaval, and so many more symptoms each varying across women.

By not acknowledging these aspects of menstruation, we manage to exclude almost every woman from the conversation. This perspective eventually caters to a prejudiced society, by delivering the message that periods are nothing but a minor glitch but don’t worry women will be back to being exemplary as long as you buy our products.

Campaigns like ‘touch the pickle‘ are pushing boundaries and addressing taboos. Still, at the end of the day by reducing it to ‘just blood‘, we manage to showcase only the tip of the iceberg with a much more significant and needed chunk of the conversation submerged into the dark.

The intention is to always normalise menstruation to a society scared of ‘just blood’. Still, it also ends up pushing women to buy the same narrative even when their bodies tell them otherwise.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the vast strides made in terms of education and awareness of menstrual hygiene. Still, I also choose to be wary of the narrative where women are only powerful when they are loud and proud of something as essential as wearing what they want or being open about menstruating. But I would be equally remiss by not acknowledging that these strides have been primarily limited to free media platforms like Instagram, Youtube and Facebook with the conversation and positive approach limited to the privileged few.

In a country like India, where WhatsApp remains the medium of choice and television, newspapers and radios, the medium for all you will find the conversation to either be negligible or non-existent.

Padman may have highlighted the fact that women and girls hide their periods but it did not show to what lengths they need to go to avoid showcasing mood swings, cramps and other symptoms which are as much a part of the menstrual process as bleeding is.

It’s high time now that the bridge is built and the narrative changed. It’s time to unlearn the conventions accepted. It is time that children are taught that their body first exists for them. We need to believe that bleeding without violence is more acceptable than any other cause for it and that irrespective of the gender we choose to identify with, accepting that we are all humans is the first step before any other.

The aim, after all, is not showing a powerful stance but reducing what a privilege for a tiny female population to an essential choice across the spectrum.

No one has the physical ability to sense when my period comes and choose to shame me. Still, everyone can create a narrative where I shame myself on their behalf, and up until now, they have been mostly successful.

So here’s hoping that someday irrespective of where we come from honest conversations will be a norm and not a luxury.

You must be to comment.
  1. Deepika Kanika

    Role of media is always mainstream
    Really well brought out!

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 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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