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If You Think Only Women Have Periods, Think Again

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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.

Written by: Soumali Datta

When it comes to menstruation, people, almost always, refer to the experience of cis-gender women i.e. those who are assigned female at birth (AFAB). But trans men, genderqueer, intersex or non-binary people who undergo menstrual cycle are more often than not left out of the conversation.

Moreover, not all those who identify as women bleed. This might be due to some medical condition(s) or menopause, stress, disease or a hysterectomy. Some may have never menstruated due to certain medical conditions or they might be transgender or intersex. The idea that gender is binary, (i.e. there are only two genders), being a black and white dichotomy, is a social construct, just as the idea that periods are experienced merely by women and are a symbol of ‘womanhood’.

Menstruation is still bound by many social, cultural and religious restrictions and taboos. In many parts of India, a cis-woman who menstruates faces restrictions from those lacking the basic knowledge about menstruation and the needs associated with it. They are not allowed to enter temples, touch or eat certain foods, and in some places, even made to stay separately from the family for the time they menstruate. If this is how “cis”-women are treated, it can be easily deducible how bad it is for those who are not even accepted in society.

When a biological phenomenon such as menstruation is gendered, it leads to emotional and mental turmoil, social exclusion and lack of menstrual healthcare, mostly among those who identify as non-binary gender identities. Some people might also experience gender dysphoria while going through menstruation. This is because of the way periods have been portrayed — as a ‘women’s issue’ — or because menstruation is incongruent with how they wish their body functioned.

woman sitting in toilet

For a trans man experiencing periods, they might feel akin to a woman. Similarly, for a trans woman who doesn’t menstruate, they might not feel ‘woman enough’. These may trigger intense gender dysphoria. Rather, if periods are considered gender-less and those who experience it are simply referred to as ‘people who have periods’ or ‘menstruators’ instead of ‘menstruating women’, it would make for a more inclusive society. We should keep in mind that menstruation is a natural bodily phenomenon and can be experienced by a person identifying with any gender.

Their struggles are not only limited to dysphoria. Non-cis-women who menstruate also face safety concerns when they menstruate in gendered bathrooms. Lack of trash cans inside stalls in men’s restrooms makes it difficult for them to discreetly throw away period products. Moreover, there’s always a constant fear of being found out while opening sanitary napkins or using them. If someone, due to lack of a better option, is forced to use a woman’s washroom where it’s comparatively easier to manage your bleeding, they may “pass” for a male or appear “too masculine”, which may become unsafe for them and lead to gender dysphoria.

Considering how transgender people are treated and the extraordinary levels of violence that they face in this country, these fears are justified. It’s also difficult for them to get access to period products during emergencies. The effect of period poverty is also more serious for them. The exclusion they face during menstrual awareness and advertisements of menstrual products, which only portrays women, is also troubling.

Sometimes , they are forced to take measures to deal with these problems: these range from taking a contraceptive pill to halt their periods or getting a hysterectomy. Some people undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and might bleed intermittently if their access to HRT is irregular due to cost, poverty, health insurance or other reasons, which can also contribute to gender dysphoria.

Menstrual awareness is important because it helps to dismantle cultures of shame and misinformation that have been associated with it for centuries. At the same time, those who are left out of the discussion may feel alienated.

This calls for a change in the mindset within our society. First of all, we need to accept and acknowledge a person’s right to identify with whatever gender they want to. Secondly, we need to stop relating menstruation with just cis-gender women. Media and brands selling menstrual hygiene products must do their fair share in helping with this exclusion. They must refrain from portraying periods as a cis-woman’s concern in advertisements and make it more inclusive.

Having unisex bathrooms in public places stocked with free or low-cost clean menstrual products can serve as a huge step on part of the government. This will also help in reducing period poverty that is otherwise rampant in this country. Owners of malls, movie halls and other establishments can do the same.

While we can’t expect these changes to happen overnight, we must begin by opening up the conversation to all gender identities and taking the first step towards inclusivity.

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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, 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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