What Menstrual Cups Taught Me About Privilege

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

About eight months ago, for the first time, I tried a menstrual cup. My life hasn’t been the same since then. It was a tough decision for me to switch from sanitary pads to menstrual cups, even at the age of 26, but I took that leap anyway.

My first interaction about periods was with my mother, during menarche. She explained to me what periods were and how to deal with them through menstrual products. The first product that I was given (because can you explore menstrual products by yourself that age!?) was a sanitary pad, as standard as it is for India. I have been using a pad and allowing it to give me rashes, pain, and make me uncomfortable month after month and year after year since then.

Around a year ago, while watching a video on menstrual cups, I seriously considered exploring more options that were mainly less traumatic for me. I found out about menstrual cups and read more articles on it only to realise that I had no idea about this alternative because I never really talked comfortably and freely about this to a group of people.

If I look at it sociologically, as a society we have associated the topic of period blood and menstruation a lot with the idea of purity and pollution./ Flatlay. Copyspace

The Black Bags We Use To Carry Sanitary Pads Reinforce Taboos

I was still a 25-year-old Indian woman, carrying sanitary pads in black bags from the pharmacy store, who never bothered to think what was wrong with it. I used to think situations like these are a reality for women. I might almost want to call it hegemonic. We are told that it is better if you do these things in silence and without talking much to people about it. A lot of these views also stem from the fact that periods are still considered a topic of taboo.

If I look at it sociologically, as a society we have associated the topic of period blood and menstruation a lot with the idea of purity and pollution. Black bags and newspapers covering our pads reinforce the idea for young girls and they see no room for clarification and curiosity. Hence, taboo and religious pollutions help us not have conversations around them and it almost feels like a western idea to talk openly to people about it and discuss issues with respect to menstruation.

And then I switched to menstrual cups. As scared as I was inserting something inside of me and not wanting to end up in a hospital with a cup inside my vagina, I really wanted to get rid of pads. But in this process, I also was on a journey to realise what privilege I had and how it put added responsibility on me.

For one, many women in India have no access to clean sanitary products and since I had that, I only realised it when I was able to make a switch. Two, the plastic from the pads is not biodegradable which is harming the environment. I did have the privilege to be able to make a switch that made me feel more responsible.

As convenient and as entitled I felt to use plastic every day of my life, I realised that the plastic of the pad was not only bad for the environment but also bad for the body. The plastic from the sanitary pads mostly goes to landfills and is non-biodegradable. And three, cloth pads, that a lot of women use, are unhealthy and toxic for the body. Although sanitary pads are too, but maybe less harmful as compared to cloth pads.

If we look at these three arguments closely, there is an overlap, yet they are distinct and all the three premises hold values in themselves that can make you understand of the privilege you have (or maybe not). If we understand that, it might help us start conversations around the topic and make responsible decisions.

Managing of menstrual waste is a problem in almost all developing countries, and while I was harming the environment by using plastic almost for every other thing in my life, I was adding menstrual waste to this load of tonnes of solid waste as well.

And while I felt responsible for contributing to polluting the environment, I also knew that I was lucky enough to be able to make a choice between menstrual cups, cloth pads, and sanitary pads (plastic ones). As per one statistic, only around 30% of women in India can afford pads, as if a luxury. And this luxury is harming them and eventually everyone else through the environment.

When I got to contemplating my choices, I realised the privilege I had.

 

The fact that I didn’t have to use a cloth while on my period and put my body at a greater risk only made me thankful of being born in a family that could make ends meet and buy me pads. It was this realisation that got me to thinking about what an opportunity I wasted all these years by not switching earlier and doing the bit I had the capacity of doing, for saving nature even a tad bit.

If you could read this article all the way till here, I would only wish that you sit today and thank god that you have had the privilege to use pads till now, because more than 70% of women in India cannot, even if they wanted to. Maybe like me, if you also realise this privilege and look at it as an opportunity to make responsible choices for menstrual products, the world may become a better place.

The above article was first published here.

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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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