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.
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.