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What If We Could Forgo The Fear, Shame, And Stigma And Just Bleed Freely?

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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.

We have all been taught as children that menstruation is a private, woman’s issue, something that has to be talked about in hushed voices, or better still, not at all. As children in school, our greatest fear was staining our skirts, and even now, we are perpetually afraid of staying out for too long while menstruating. Periods are something that has been kept under the covers (literally!) for centuries, but what if we could forgo the fear, shame, and stigma and just bleed freely?

What Is Free Bleeding?

As the name suggests, free bleeding is the practice of not stopping or collecting blood flow while menstruating by not wearing sanitary products (like pads, tampons or cups). While free bleeding is a valid lifestyle choice for many, it has been used to protest the tampon tax (which is still prevalent in many countries), and to fight the stigma about menstruation.

However, free bleeding is not an entirely new concept, as there have been accounts of the practice dating back to the 17th century early modern England. As it turns out, the subject has been widely debated ever since the beginning of menstrual activism in the 1970s, and consequently in online communities. In 2015, a series of photographs titled ‘There Will Be Blood‘, taken by Emma Arvida Bystrom for VICE sparked controversy about the free bleeding movement.

Credits: VICE (Emma Arvida Bystrom, ‘There Will Be Blood’)

Musician, feminist activist and marathon runner Kiran Gandhi made headlines back in 2015 when she participated in the 26.2 miles long London marathon while free bleeding. In her blog post titledSisterhood, Blood and Boobs at the London Marathon 2015‘ she states that her decision not to wear a tampon was to challenge the stigma surrounding menstruation and to complete the race “in the safest and healthiest way possible for [her] body“. She also speaks at length about economic oppression leading to menstrual hygiene inaccessibility in rural communities and how we, as a society, have a long way to go in accepting a natural bodily process without attaching the ‘taboo’ label on it.

Kiran Gandhi at the 2015 London Marathon.

In the same year, poet and illustrator Rupi Kaur faced backlash on Instagram for posting a picture of herself sleeping on her bed with her pyjamas stained in period blood. After the post was removed from Instagram twice for violating community guidelines, she took to Facebook to write a heartfelt post addressing the issue. She points out the double standards of this misogynist society where countless women and even underage children are objectified, sexualised and ogled at; whereas this natural process is shunned, and seen as ‘dirty’.

Credits: Rupi Kaur

The most recent instance of free bleeding was demonstrated in 2017 by transgender activist Cass Clemmer, who shared a poem and a picture of themself menstruating. Their aim was to prove that it is not only women who menstruate, trans men, get periods too. Although the post received tremendous backlash online, it served to drive home the fact that menstruation is a gender-neutral process.

Credits: Cass Clemmer, Toni the Tampon

Are there any benefits of free bleeding? Is it safe and hygienic? While there are no real health benefits to free bleeding, it is basically free and produces much less sanitary waste. A few menstruators have even admitted that they experience reduced cramps while menstruating freely, although it is not scientifically or clinically proven.

Free bleeding is safe to practice at home if you have a comparatively lighter flow and don’t mind washing and changing clothes frequently. In public, however, there is always a risk of contracting blood-borne viruses like HIV and Hepatitis, and it is not particularly hygienic to leave bloodstains everywhere in public places. Blood exposed to air also leads to an unpleasant odour, so you will find yourself changing clothes more often than not.

Menstruation should be practised according to one’s preference, but free bleeding is more of a movement than a daily practice. It has been used all around the world to advocate for the normalisation of menstrual blood, fight the inaccessibility of menstrual hygiene products, and to raise awareness about the tremendous environmental impact of sanitary products.

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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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