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.
Most of us have made an excuse to skip P.E. or yoga classes because we were on our periods for fear of leaking and painful cramps. Similar options are not available to most sportswomen. There is an existing stigma when it comes to women in sports. Since the profession is highly male-dominated, anything feminine becomes a sign of weakness. It eventually leads to women hiding their struggles.
Since sportswomen have to undergo strenuous training in their everyday lives, they risk a condition called female athlete triad. Not getting sufficient nutrients in proportion to physical training they undergo can lead to irregular periods or amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is a state of no periods. Lack of a balanced diet can also affect their bodies in other ways.
Healthy body weight is necessary for regular production of a hormone called estrogen. It performs the primary function of thickening of the uterus lining during the ovulation. Its other role is of absorption of calcium, which is required for building strong bones, leading to increased risk of bone injuries during training or performing.
Research has also suggested that women are more prone to severe knee injuries, also called anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, as compared to male counterparts, due to increased joint elasticity during ovulation.
But more often than not, these differences are not acknowledged by the coaches and trainers who are usually men. There is also a dearth of research and literature on the intersection between periods and physical labour that sportswomen undergo. The studies have excessively focused on male athletic bodies.
At times sportswomen take painkillers and contraceptive pills to manage their menstruation. Still, it often results in emotional fluctuations and prolonged period symptoms. Women who do not take these pills also go through usual menstrual symptoms like period cramps, nausea and sickness. Yet these factors are rarely taken into consideration, and women are made to take the same training as their male counterparts.
When it comes to the stigma around menstruation, most women across the globe have similar experiences even within the sports community. But there are some countries where sportswomen are not only breaking the silences but are also applying innovative strategies to manage their periods to maximize their performance healthily.
In India, one of the upcoming boxers Kalaivani Srinivasan, aged 20, attributes her recent success to menstruation monitoring apps which helped her plan her diet and training accordingly. Olympics aspirant, Nikhat Zareen, has decided to try menstrual tracking as well, hinting at an upcoming change in the Indian sports area where menstrual talk is virtually non-existent.
Menstrual tracking was made famous by U.S. women football world cup winning team. The team had a special menstrual adviser, who tracked the menstrual cycle of the team members to customize the training accordingly.
England women’s hockey team used a similar strategy before the 2012 Olympics. Period tracking apps can come handy. They are efficient in moderating the training and performance of the team members. The apps help to synchronize the required diet and exercise based on one’s menstrual cycle.
To make the field of sports a lot more period and gender-sensitive, more women need to enter the profession which is primarily dominated by men resulting in the needs of women being ignored. The normalization of menstruation is not possible unless everyone comes together to work on it. There have been numerous instances where sportspersons have been discriminated against. Any eventual wave of change in sports is only possible where girls since childhood are encouraged to play despite being on periods. Menstruation should not be the reason for women to step away from the game.
The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program