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Why Inclusivity In Menstruation Is The Need Of The Hour

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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.

The cost of sanitary products is restrictive for many. It might hinder a person’s day to day life, inability to attend schools, job interviews, or opportunities that could lead to economic advancement. It’s easy to visualize that the lack of access of period products is hard on transgender and non-binary people. So, when we consider them, they are more likely to live in period poverty than cis-people.

Social Problems

It’s not just the economic barrier faced by the community; some might experience gender dysphoria because periods are gendered as “only a woman’s thing“. Also, due to the linkage between menstruation and femininity, trans women feel excluded because of the socially accepted idea of a woman still rests upon reproduction and menstruation. Uninvited periods can be a little dangerous for trans men. The noise of ripping off the sanitary pads and disposing of menstrual products in toilets can expose trans men to violence.

It makes me extremely dysphoric using the women’s restroom, but what else can I do? I think it would be dangerous if I used the men’s restroom. A gender-neutral restroom would be a great way of tackling this problem,” says a 16-year-old residing in Dubai, who identifies as a trans non-binary person.

Most menstrual products that we see are marketed as feminine hygiene products. They are predictably produced considering cis-women. They are decorated with stereotypical motifs of social ideas of femininity. It can be off-putting for transgender and non-binary people.

For them, purchasing sanitary products can be a big task. The majority of options like tampons and sanitary pads aren’t compatible with most boxers or briefs and can cause severe body dysphoria. Recently, Procter and Gamble took the initiative of removing the Venus symbol from the packaging of ‘Always‘ sanitary pads. It can be considered as a meaningful step towards inclusivity.

A man lying on a stained bed sheet

Gender-Neutral Menstrual Products

With increasing inclusivity in menstruation, there have been small changes within the period industry. They are now moving towards bringing designs in products which can be freely used by menstruators regardless of gender.

  • Thinx Boyshorts: The first brand that used a transgender model to represent their product. The boy-shorts made by Thinx are period underwear, an excellent gender-neutral option. These boy-shorts can hold up to 10ml worth of blood at a time. They made a short video to raise awareness on men dealing with stained bedsheets, asking strangers for tampons, and an anxious teenager experiencing his first period.
  • Pyramid 7 boxer shorts: They describe their company as “boxer briefs for periods, not gender“. The boxers made by them are leak-proof, having an interior pocket that secures menstrual products like pads and panty liners.
  • Wingless pads: They are good options to use in any briefs or other fitted garments. These cloth pads can be secured with small safety pins on the underside. They have the added benefit of being noise-free, unlike other disposable pads, which are super noisy.
  • Luna pads: Boxer-briefs by them have a lined inner panel with a suitable absorbent material that extends to the back. The inner panel can be swapped out as needed. They assure leak-free protection.
  • Menstrual Disk: Newer to the period industry, it’s concept is similar to a menstrual cup. It’s a flat disc that sits past the vaginal canal behind the pubic bones. While the menstrual disk being a disposable product does produce waste (unlike menstrual cups), but it’s far less than pads and tampons.

But the products mentioned above are available in the international market. As far as the Indian market is concerned, there is still a need to revolutionize and to be more inclusive in terms of menstrual products.

Change For The Better

Predictably, in the coming times, we are going to see a massive shift to produce reusable, functional and inclusive menstrual products. With an increase in solid waste through disposable menstrual products, companies are taking initiatives to cater to both issues. They have to think beyond design if they want the brand loyalty of all genders.

The present generation cares for both people and the environment. Due to the news and media, the age is acquiring knowledge of the inclusivity of gender in every aspect. Sunn, an 18-year old, feels the same, “The next generation of people will grow up being more aware and understanding. People who are confused about their identities feel like they are wrong. People will grow up knowing that we exist and that’s okay, it’s normal. If kids learn this, they can teach it to generation after generation, and we’ll gradually become a more inclusive society as a whole.”

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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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