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Dear Men, It Is High Time You Speak About Menstruation

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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.

Note: The following article is based on a survey the author conducted with 70 cis-gendered men. The use of the terminology ‘men’ is to address cis-gendered men and ‘menstruators’ to include trans men who bleed too.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a life-threatening condition caused by the release of harmful toxins. It can happen when a menstruator leaves a pad or tampon on them for long hours. In a survey that I conducted with 70 cis-gendered men, only 2.9% said it was a condition menstruators were prone to while 54.3% of men responded saying that it was Premenstrual Syndrome.

Men, I think it is high time we talk.

Men looking at a phone with a girl holding a question mark in the background

In middle school, a very concerned friend told me about what had happened to Payal (name changed) from class 7B. Payal had got her period in class and had stained her white skirt. The boys sitting behind her had laughed and soon after others joined. The incident made all the other girls extremely conscious of staining. They would often take another girlfriend walking close behind them to the washroom so that if there were a stain, it would not be visible to the boys.

Growing up, I would often wonder why periods were a girl’s problem alone. At twenty, I know it is not our problem alone, yet only menstruators are taught and policed about it. The survey I conducted revealed that 77.1% of men were not told about menstruation outside of their mandatory school syllabus.

This education in our biology books as I remember was a class full of giggles and side glances with an uncomfortable teacher trying to rush through the topic. When it comes to being provided with enough information about menstruation growing up, 68.6% of men responded, saying they were not provided with enough information. About 60% of them said that their parents did not talk to them about periods.

So while Payal and other menstruators had horrible first experiences of getting their periods and were taken to separate rooms to be told about this ‘girl problem’, boys were kept away. This segregation of genders at a young age limits men from knowing more about menstruation than just what is written in textbooks.

But How Will Men Speaking About Periods Make Any Difference?

An article by Karan Babbar titled ‘To My Fellow Male Citizens, Let’s Talk About Periods‘ has the following quote.

“Patriarchy is deeply rooted in our society, where men exercise power over women in all socio-economic institutions of the society, and they exercise this power by taking a significant role in decision making. Women are seen as second-class citizens with very little power. One of the reasons why women are not able to manage their menses is their inability to control resources.”

In a society where men are the dominant policymakers and decision-makers, even at a household level, a lot of menstruators’ menstrual experiences are impacted by them. The way a person feels during their period and what assistance is provided to them can highly impact a menstruator’s outlook towards periods. I have known so many menstruators all my life who hate periods for the shame, discomfort, and stigma attached to them. These experiences are often dealt with “Saari ladkiyon ko hota hai. Seh lo,” but here is the thing, it doesn’t have to be a bad experience, and we don’t have to bear it.

In educational institutions, workplaces, and homes, menstruators require a safe environment to talk about their problems and feelings. Conversations with men around should not be in hushed tones. About 22% of men responded that their households or places of work do not provide a safe space for menstruators to talk about menstruation freely.

41% said that their workplaces or education institution did not have a sanitary pad dispenser. In comparison, 25% responded by saying they had never asked if there was one. These circumstances make menstruation a difficult experience for menstruators, and this experience is for 2-5 days every month!

A girl saying shhh with a dirty menstrual cup in the backgroundA friend told me about how, when she first got her period, her mother was not around. Her father had helped with everything; from teaching her how to put on a pad to providing basic knowledge about menstruation. That made me think of the necessity for men to know about periods.

This does not mean most men do not know about menstruation, but that the education and awareness end at that, knowing it as just a ‘process’. It is not so much the taboo but the lack of knowledge of menstruation in men. From menstrual hygiene management to menstrual waste disposal, men rarely speak about these topics. How can we, as a society, fight for gender-equality if the men still leave the room because we are talking about girl problems?

The segregation of genders when talking about menstruation in schools and homes limits men from knowing about various aspects of menstruation growing up. Theodore, a third-year college student, says that he knew that some men around him would say “Do not talk to her, she is in the ‘bitchy mood‘” when talking about PMS. His parents had talked to him about menstruation, and he felt that using such words was wrong.

I was really fortunate to have a teacher who did not separate the class into boys and girls for sex education. That really took a lot of stigma out of it,” he adds.

A lot of respondents in the survey said they would help someone who had just got their period by calling someone who would know what to do. While it is true that a menstruator will be able to understand the situation better, non-menstruators must know enough to handle such a situation. What is even more important is dialogue.

More men need to talk about menstruation openly and advocate for better menstrual hygiene schemes and provisions from the government. More importantly, we need men supporting women who advocate for better policies to make safer environments for menstruators to make a more gender-equal society. Because it is not just ‘auraton ki dikkat‘ (women’s trouble) and it doesn’t have to be a ‘dikkat‘ with the right kind of support and intervention.

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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