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How Fellow Menstruators Can Help Destigmatise Periods For The Rest

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 panicked and broke into tears!,” says one of our menstruators Payal Tak, narrating her experience on her first period as part of our ongoing campaign #myfirstperiod, which aims to break the stigma around menstruation by initiating a conversation surrounding it.

In the last few years, we have found people becoming more vocal about periods and working together to end the stigmas attached to them. There have been movies, commercials, campaigns and movements by several NGOs and celebrities trying to make it less of a taboo and more of a normal monthly affair. But alas, a lot of stigma still remains!

Menstruation or period is still referred to as “that time of the month” by many of us. We are still not quite comfortable conversing on the subject and refer to menstruation in code words, and not using the biological or common name for it. Periods still remains a hush-hush subject.

Periods are still not felt like a reason enough to take leave from work or school, and are often covered up with other health reasons such as cold, cough, fever and stomach ache. However, we all know that periods can make one feel unwell and uncomfortable just like any other health issues.

Participant (The Nude Abstract) from #DOT 2019 subjecting menses in photography

In many parts of the country, a young menstruator is unaware of the purpose and aftermath of menstruation. A report titled Spot On, published in 2014 by an NGO named Dasra highlighted that 70% of the mothers consider menstruation ‘dirty’. According to Supriya Khanna of the Indian Council for Medical Research,

“Women across India grow up remaining unaware of the real reasons for menstruation and the importance of menstrual hygiene. The taboo surrounding menstruation remains a part of their growing up and continues with their daughters. Hence, the lack of awareness is carried forward via generations in India.”

If the mother, who is mostly the first contact and source of information for a young menstruator, herself believes periods to be a matter of shame, then the barriers of taboo around menstruation can never get broken.

Another significant issue is that young menstruators are found to drop out of school due to reasons, viz. lack of accessibility to basic menstrual hygiene products and dilapidated or no toilets at all. In a country such as ours, where illiteracy is already a major issue, these reasons of drop outs further add to illiteracy. It is highly problematic, because dropping out of the school generally leads to early marriage, followed by ill-informed and early pregnancy in women, leading to a myriad of other problems.

#MythsInMenstruation busting myth of period experiences being same for everyone.

Not entering the kitchen, not touching holy books or not worshiping while menstruating are some of the common practices still believed and practiced by many in our country. A lot of dietary restrictions like avoiding sour foods (curd, tamarind and pickles) are also imposed on menstruators in some parts of the country. Also, exercising is not allowed for menstruators, considering it will aggravate menstrual cramps. All in all, menstruation is considered impure and when on their menstruation, people are not allowed to do many such things that they normally do. Whereas, as long as basic hygiene standards are adhered to during periods, there is no other scientific reason to follow any such restrictions.

Meenakshi Sharma, Coordinator for Menstrual Hygiene Management, WASH Alliance, has rightly quoted,

“The problems with menstruation in India are that they are similar to a chain of command, related to each other. There is no awareness on menstruation, hence it is considered dirty. Being a ‘dirty’ occurrence, a menstruating girl in rural regions is isolated or forced to drop out of school as unlike urban areas, access to sanitary napkins there is low. This cycle is handed over from mother to daughter, but the taboo on menstruation remains.”

A young menstruator gets caught up with all the cultural and social restrictions associated with menstruation. A lot of such practices do not hold any scientific significance, yet are followed by women due to either not being equipped with enough knowledge on the subject or simply being afraid to hurt the cultural sentiments, considering themselves to be keepers of age-old customs.

Such myths around menstruation still linger in our society, owing to many reasons, with lack of education around the topic being the prominent one. Hence, the need arises to talk about menstruation openly, and educate the masses on what is menstruation and why it is normal. Menstruation, or period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs due to shedding of the inner lining of uterus every month, and in turn, discharges blood and mucosal through the vagina.

A session on understanding menstruation, the taboos and myths around it among young menstruators in Sonapur, Assam.

The rise and fall of hormones lead to the occurrence of the menstrual cycle. As a result, an egg grows in the ovary and gets released into the uterus on the 14th day of the cycle. The uterus, on the other hand, prepares for implantation of the egg by thickening its lining, which is meant to provide nutrients to the embryo after its implantation. If pregnancy does not occur, the uterus sheds this lining, which gets released through the vagina. This entire process is known as menstruation.

It is the silence and shame that dominates the knowledge on menstruation. This impacts the emotional and physical health of many women in our country.

Due to low menstrual hygiene and scarce availability of menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads, a lot of women in rural and semi-urban areas still use old cloth, sand, old socks, ash, hay and such other materials to absorb menstrual blood, due to which 70% of them suffer from Reproductive Tract Infections and other related health issues.

Café Conversation on Sustainable Menstruation at The Zouq by Kabita Ghimire on Periods Day

The problem doesn’t end here. Sanitary napkins, the basic menstrual hygiene product used in our country, is primarily made of plastic, and disposing them is a major threat to the environment. Alternatives to these pads include eco-friendly sanitary pads, eco-friendly tampons and menstrual cups. Hence, the need arises to speak up about not only menstrual hygiene, but also eco-friendly menstrual hygiene.

Another problem that menstruators in our country face is imposition of tax on all menstrual hygiene products. The government cites them as non-essential items, hence making them costlier and less accessible. It is quite evident that we need to work on the provision of menstrual hygiene products and educate menstruators about menstrual hygiene to reduce health issues occurring due to unhygienic conditions during menstruation, rather than creating a stigma around it.

Not all menstruators are women and not all women menstruate. Menstruation should not be looked at as a boon for reproduction, which should be a choice for women, not an imposition. There are many women who don’t bleed and this should not be seen as a reason to treat them inferior to the women who menstruate. Many trans men and non-binary individuals also menstruate. When the taboo around menstruation is making life difficult for women, imagine the stigma menstruating trans men and other non-binary individuals must have to go through.

#myfirstperiod campaign calling upon menstruators to share their first-period experience.

We at Spread Love And Peace (SLAP) work towards de-stigmatising periods and are inclusively working with menstruators in reaching the goal.

The members of SLAP, or Dosts of SLAP, as we like to call them, have been actively participating in campaigns viz. Period in Pandemic, #myfirstperiod, #mythsinmenstruation and Red Spot Campaign, all aimed at shaking and breaking the stigmas in and around menstruation. Be it lack of accessibility of menstrual hygiene products or hardships faced by young menstruators during their first period, these campaigns are all designed to run with a one-point focus — of making menstruation a bit more easier affair for all menstruators.

SLAP not only conducts campaigns, but also invites guest speakers working in similar areas to share their insights, gathered by the noble work they have been doing.

#DOT is another campaign in which SLAP invites artists, making their art a medium to talk about menstruation. The campaign is held every year during the month of May as a part of celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28th of May.

SLAP has also been actively organising interactive sessions for menstruators of all age and working towards collecting donations and distribution of menstrual hygiene products to menstruators in need. As the saying goes, Unity is Strength, we urge all menstruators to come forward, join hands with us and share their experience. Hopefully, together we will be able to make a difference.

A lot of noise has been made and a lot of voices heard. But we have a long way to go. We need to bridge the gap between stigma and acceptance to such a level that people are willing to fund small-scale organisations, initiatives and NGOs working in this regard. We are struggling in this criteria too and need your love and support to help us help you to change lives.

Image submitted by a participant in our campaign titled Period In Pandemic demanding menstrual hygiene product as essentials.

Here are the links of our previous and ongoing programs:

#myfirstperiod

Period in Pandemic in collaboration with Period- Start of Story

#DOT

#MythsInMenstruation in collaboration with Disha Sahu

Red Spot Campaign in collaboration with Sachhi Saheli

Session on menstruation, taboos and myths around it among young menstruators in Sonapur, Assam

Webinar with three guest speakers: Menstrual Hygiene Day Celebration

Café Conversation on Sustainable Menstruation at The Zouq, Guwahti by Kabita Ghimire on Periods Day

Visit our Instagram handle for reading more on it: Spread Love And Peace

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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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