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Why Do We Still Insist That Only Women Menstruate?

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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.

Our society views menstruation as ‘women’s thing’. It is seen as something only cisgender women experience. But that’s not the case; not everyone who gets a period is a woman, and not every woman menstruates!

Transgender Men And Non-Binary People Bleed Too

Women go through a hard time opening up about their periods. It’s even more exhausting for the transgender and non-binary people. This is greatly attributed to us as a society—failing to have a normal conversation about periods.

Cass Bliss Holding a sign that says periods are not just for women #bleedingwhiletrans
Credits: @tonithetampon/Instagram
We have been programmed to think that periods exclusively affect women. This promotes a myth that they don’t affect men and can be stigmatising for transgender men who menstruate. On the other hand, transgender women are excluded because of the link that is created between menstruation and the idea of femininity. The societal model of womanhood still rests upon reproduction and children.

Transgender model and activist Kenny Ethan Jones states in his article that “Having a period already causes me a lot of [gender] dysphoria, but this dysphoria becomes heightened when I have to shop for a product that is labeled as ‘women’s health’ and in most cases, is pretty and pink.” And in general, when the products are categorised as women’s products, they might feel alienated and may avoid purchasing.

The hurdles some transgender men face include the high cost of period supplies, lack of access to the products, safety concerns and inadequate medical care. This can also be seen in just about every advert for sanitary napkins in India, featuring only cisgender women. This also may cause transgender men to shy away from menstrual hygiene services, which can otherwise help in their discomfort.

Then there is the usage of public toilets which are gender-specific. Again, they may fear being exposed by carrying tampons or pads and the sound of opening the product in restrooms leading to unwanted attention or violence and having the real challenge of discarding the used products, having such no facilities in men’s bathrooms. According to a 2015 survey conducted in the US, it was found that 60% of transgender respondents reported being too afraid to use public restrooms due to fear of confrontation and 12% reported being verbally harassed while accessing a bathroom.

The data is shocking. We can construct a similar scenario in India in 2020. Though menstrual hygiene management guidelines under the Swachh Bharat Mission 2015 do mention providing separate toilets for transgender folks, it is still a far fetched reality!

Time To Start A Discussion

We barely have a society which allows women to speak openly about their periods without hushing and shushing, especially in the presence of a male company— diminishing a chance for the other genders to speak and share their feeling on menstruation. In terms of language, using the term ‘menstruator rather than ‘women menstruating can be influential in changing the perception of menstruation. It can lead to trans-inclusivity and period positivity.

3 people looking at a sanitary pad
Art for YKA by Arnica Kala

When menstruation gets essentialised as a woman’s thing, menstruators are excluded from benefits by the government as we saw during the pandemic. Amidst the prolonged current lockdown, one in three girls finds it hard to search for sanitary products, according to Pacific. People may avoid going to the market to buy essentials in fear of getting exposed to Covid-19, and women are forced to use unhygienic methods, increasing their risk for reproductive and urinary tract infection.

All the data on menstruation hygiene during the pandemic is discussing women’s menstrual health and rarely any media coverage is saved for transgender people, who are incredibly vulnerable during such unprecedented times. The government had classified sanitary napkins as non-essential items, even after the reversal of the ruling, accessibility for cis-women was a problem, so for marginalised groups, this was further a problem. Fear of access, lack of medical care put them into a fragile state. Care has to be taken to ensure menstrual health for all and not just one gender.

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

You must be to comment.
  1. Divya Yadav

    Even after being in the twenties, I had never thought about the struggles of Transgenders during menstruation. Thank you for bringing this to light @GunjanKhadria

  2. Zoya Hussein

    *Slow claps*
    Let’s call these people menstruators, or maybe ovulators or birth givers. As if it wasn’t dehumanising enough that women are treated as untouchables when they menstruate-, not allowed to enter temples for they’re “polluting”, not allowed to enter kitchens or even homes. If only they could “identify out” of their biology! Not more female foeticide! No more rapes! No more child marriages!

    Let’s instead debate on semantics. Who cares about rights?! Who cares that thousands of intersex children who DO menstruate- are abandoned by their families to Hijra communities where they live a life of sex work, face violence!

    How great it must be to be a an upper class transperson, who cares more about the fact that he has to contend with going into the “women’s” section (eww) than the fact that millions of “women” do not even have access to menstrual hygiene.

    And this is progress?

  3. Zoya Hussein

    I don’t think calling humans menstruators is going to stop misogyny rooted in biology. Menstruation is considered polluting and hence women are not allowed into kitchens, homes or temples during this time. There is shame associated with women’s bodies- manusmriti for instance considers women’s bodies to be sinful. And changing your gender identity does nothing for the vast swathe of “people who menstruate-” and continue to face oppression and discrimination.
    Maybe we should be fighting against untouchability, lack of access to menstrual hygiene products for vast number of poor women, rather than talking semantics.

    You may quote a US study, but please understand that the problems that Indian Women and transgender community faces is vastly different. Girls are not able to complete their education because THERE ARE NO TOILETS in schools. In rural India, vast number of women have to go outside to relieve themselves where they are often harassed or worse sexually assaulted and killed.

    Please do not reduce women to be menstruators, ovulators or birth givers.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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