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7 Ways You Can Be An Effective Ally To Menstruators

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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.

A significant point to think about when it comes to menstruators is how non-menstruators are usually out of the picture. Most times, they are oblivious to the phenomenon in itself, and other times it becomes apparent that they may be aware, but have no intention of building upon their basic knowledge.

Ignorant questions are asked. A non-menstruator asked a girl if menstrual cycles had anything to do with the moon. Another non-menstruator held the impression that menstruators could choose when to begin bleeding. Similarly, a woman talked about needing to find a tampon, and a non-menstruator asked her why she couldn’t just hold the blood in.

a girl and a boy walking

So what exactly can non-menstruators do? I have a few suggestions.

1. Educate Yourself – The Process, The Outcomes, The Side Effects

First and foremost, learn about menstruation. Excuses provided by non-menstruators of not having studied about it in school adequately hold no merit as a simple google search turns up a plethora of information. WebMD, Healthline and Planned Parenthood are a few of the most basic websites that can be consulted.

But as mentioned before, just knowing what is on the surface isn’t enough. It would be helpful to take a deep dive and learn about the stages and side effects of menstruation too, which are vital in constructing the whole picture and building perspective for the long run.

2. Be Sensitive To Related Medical Conditions

Non-menstruators need to understand that menstruation can be a touchy topic for a lot of menstruators, especially if they live with conditions like premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). They are a painful reality, and not “made up to garner attention.”

Therefore, cracking jokes about how a menstruator must be on their period or must be PMSing and how it is best to stay away from them if they appear moody or emotional is uncalled for and trivialise the medical condition at hand.

3. Provide Emotional Support (If/When Required)

As mentioned, it is normal for hormones to be all over the place when it comes to someone who is menstruating. This, along with cramps, means that the individual is dealing with an abject amount of pain. Yes, medicines, foods and hot water bags are helpful in some cases, but they may not provide comfort for everyone.

It is essential to go out of your comfort zone and provide emotional support and care to the menstruator if they require/ask for it. In many cases, just the presence of someone who will listen to them as their emotions get heightened is enough.

4. Use Correct Language

Calling a menstruator crazy, irrational or hysterical when they are menstruating puts them at a disadvantage. Slangs and terms referring to how they are ‘impure’ and ‘dirty’ during their period dehumanise them. Therefore language used to refer to a menstruator needs to be kept under check constantly.

5. Do Not Fetishise it

Several people look at ‘period sex‘ as a fetish. Even though having sex while being on your period is a personal preference, it should not be non-consensual. They may be suffering from heavy bleeding, cramps, or may not want to engage with it. The overarching idea here is about the sanctity of consent and not holding period sex as a given, which again underplays the concept of periods to a certain extent.

6. Do Not Isolate Them Or Give In To Taboos

Taboos surrounding menstruation are held widely across the country. It is of vital importance to unlearn them, to not inflict these regressive learnings, knowingly or unknowingly upon coming generations. Taboos like ‘don’t enter the kitchen’ and ‘don’t touch the pickle’ have no place in our society. It would be a good idea to actively spot such discrimination in immediate surroundings, identify it, call it out and as a result, unlearn them.

7. Spread Your Learnings – Not By Mansplaining

Once non-menstruators have learnt a fair bit about menstruation and its intersections, it may help to spread this knowledge to fellow uninitiated ones. Successful allyship requires it to not be performative, with no appropriation or moderation of voices. Rather than mansplaining concepts that are faced by menstruators, it would be better if their voices are amplified.

Learning about menstruation can undoubtedly be daunting, where one may end up saying or doing the wrong things at the wrong time. Still, despite success and failure, the need for sensitisation should be the end goal.

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

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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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