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I Didn’t Think UK Would Have Period Stigma But My Stay There Proved Me Wrong

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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 period is generally a monthly process. Yet it’s a broadly stigmatised issue. Still, most of the people are not comfortable talking about it publicly. Period stigma isn’t limited only to developing countries. Even in the United Kingdom, where I live currently, period stigma still prevails.

International media always portrays the myths and taboo in under-developed and developing countries. So we are unaware of the menstrual hardships of the girls in the developed countries. There are a lot of myths which exist as a bane that deprives them of their rights. This also distances them from the wider society during period days.

Period Stigma In India

The society has developed unfavourable concepts and false beliefs about menstruation. Many of us grow up, believing that menstruation is something very embarrassing. I was born and brought up in a traditional Hindu family in Kerala. My grandparents have always been strict about the so-called ‘period rules and regulations’. In those days, I would consider the period as a monthly punishment.

Period days during school time were really awful. The entire day, I would be tensed of uniform getting stained. In those days, I was embarrassed to buy a sanitary pad. I used to wait outside for the shops to become uncrowded to avoid being stared at.

In school, there were no such proper awareness classes on menstruation. Even in biology class, ‘reproduction’ chapter was given to students to study on their own. Some teachers would explain it to girls after sending boys on a break. We wouldn’t discuss menstruation in detail even with friends. In class, we used some codes to address the periods to avoid embarrassment in front of boys.

While doing my masters in Tamil Nadu, I had gone to a village named Kachipattu, to do fieldwork. There I saw a couple of schoolgirls going back to their home during lunch break to change their sanitary cloths. On having a conversation with the students, I realised that they didn’t have a working toilet. So during period days, they had to walk home to change clothes. They had a little awareness of menstruation and menstrual hygiene practices.

Parents and teachers have not been giving attention to adolescent girls regarding menstruation. They have failed to make girls aware of menarche before it is attained. When they reach puberty, their parents will celebrate it as it’s a custom in the village. It’s called ‘Manjal Neer-Attu Vizha‘ (turmeric bathing ceremony) with a grand feast at home.

Mothers would ask their daughters to follow some rules as they are now considered mature. They are told, if they go against the rules, the goddess will curse them. Due to this fear, they obey the rules blindly. Girls have to face many restrictions in their daily lives just because they are menstruating!

Girl looking angry at different words for periodsPeriod Stigma In The Western World

Due to family reasons, I have temporarily moved to the United Kingdom. I had always thought period days would be easier for people here. Little did I imagine that people in a developed country like the UK would also stigmatise periods.

Here too, most of the girls consider it an awkward subject. Girl flu, shark week, code red, on the blob are common codes used to refer to period. They keep their tampons inside their sleeves while going to the toilet, to avoid embarrassment. Period poverty is still a big challenge faced by many girls in the UK during this lockdown. Socks and kitchen paper are some of the items being used as sanitary products.

In the UK, being a rich country, it’s unbelievable that many girls can’t afford sanitary products. The report says that girls miss school during their period days due to period poverty. Campaigns and protests made the government consider providing free sanitary napkins in schools and colleges to end period poverty.

In advertisements in the UK, period stains on sanitary pads are shown in blue colour. First TV advertisement in 2017, which showed red-coloured stains got loads of objections.

Talking about the Indian community in the UK, they are still following the same myths and taboos. These were conditioned in them by their parents or grandparents. A friend of mine was barred from an online religious ritual during her periods. On experiencing period stigma in India and the UK, I realised that it’s a global issue. In the UK, too, some don’t have access to facilities and products for period hygiene.

In India, the period restrictions are deeply rooted. But in the UK, girls don’t face any restrictions in family or society. In both countries, there are shortcomings in education on menstruation. No matter how developed a country is, menstruation remains a stigma!

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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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