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Smash The Stigma: I Am A Boy, And I Talk Of Periods As Casually As I Talk About Netflix

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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.

I belong to an educated, lower-middle-class, North-Indian family. I’m a single child, a boy; and we don’t talk about periods at home. I couldn’t understand the advertisements of sanitary pads till my 8th or 9th grade, an age when most of the girls had already started menstruating.

Why is the girl sad, why is she running now, is it a kind of diaper, what does it soak, I had no clue.

So, like many of us, my introduction with menstruation began with the famous ‘reproduction’ chapter of biology textbooks. Even though the teacher didn’t explain it, I read it out of curiosity and understood the most of it, perhaps. Still, I had no idea about cramps or anything ‘real’. Adult jokes on periods were another ‘source’ of knowledge about it. As I was growing up, I started to observe and understand why a female family member is not attending pooja, or what it meant to keep pickles or food items ‘pure’.

During my 11th or 12th, my friends and I had no clear knowledge of periods but our ‘observation skills’ used to inform us that if a girl was having periods in class. The red spots on white skirts, sudden washroom permissions, their whispers, and often embarrassing faces were enough to let us know about ‘the time of the month’. It was a means to humiliate girls for a few boys and a topic of ‘intentional avoidance’ or evasion for the rest of us.

Representational image.

While graduation, I opted for humanities, left science, and biology and I don’t remember any encounter with periods during that phase, except in fiction. There was this novel where a vampire protagonist says that their thirst for blood is of a different kind, else he would have gone insane while a lot of women walk on road while having periods. I thought about that point for a long time, relating it to several vampire-witch novels I had read then.

And then happened something that enlightened me: relationship.

I was in a long-distance relationship at that time and periods used to play a crucial role in our meetings. When you meet someone special after a gap of two or three months, you definitely do not prefer to see them under cramps and flow. Our meetings used to get influenced by her dates. On several occasions though, we met during her periods, and only then I got to know how a woman suffers during that phase. With her, I got to know several facts like the pain is massive during the first days, how it affects her moods and activities and all.

That sudden knowledge of an ill-informed boy from a girl of almost similar age somehow affected his attitude toward the female body. My mind was apparently learning about periods, their pain as described by her and everything related, but then, I got a new problem. I could not behave normally.

So, whenever I got to know that she is having periods, I used to feel anxious that she must be going through such pain and I should stay a bit away from her. Just like a person having a big wound or painful bleeding needs some space, I felt she must be crying out for space as well. So, I used to be extra gentle while hugs and uncomfortable while tight hugs. I used to feel that she would collapse out of pain if I hug her tight or make her walk at my own speed.

Whenever I get to know that a woman is having periods, I feel similar to what I feel after seeing a pregnant woman with a big belly – scrupulously protective and dramatically conscious.

This nature is something that I’m constantly trying to fight, even now.

So, then, I got took my admission to post-graduation. I read about women struggle, feminism, and everything that a person must read in order to unlearn the patriarchal notions which are consciously, subconsciously fitted inside our brains. There, I had friends who were chill and maturely knowledgeable about it and it was quite a liberating, learning experience. Now, I could talk about periods. I could speak the word ‘Period’ without giving it a disrespectful tone (not in front of my family though). But I was opening towards the subject.

A few months back, it was around 6 in the morning; we were going to ghat when a friend said that she is expecting her periods. I accompanied her to all the medical shops and whenever she asked for pads in a shop, I stood next to her. I didn’t want to stay hidden from the eyes of the shopkeeper. She bought it, and that was the first time I held a sanitary napkin. In my post-graduation!

And it was orange-coloured! Way beyond my imagination! I held it and, laughed at my stupidity of the past 22 years of my life. Today, I am still learning and unlearning. I feel bad about the way periods to have been stigmatized, or tabooed in our society. When a ‘co-ed student’ like me could have no familiarity with such a natural phenomenon like periods, and have such wrong notions about it, I feel gender equality has definitely got a long way to go in India. Now, I talk about periods as casually as I talk about Netflix. Recently, when I texted a ‘what’s up?’ to a female friend, her reply was, ‘Periods. Period.”

I laughed and advised her to rest, and eat her favourite chocolates.

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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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