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Ever Wondered What The Greeks Wrote 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.

Written by Sinjini Bhattacharya

Imagine being on your period, with unbelievably painful cramps and constant discomfort. You’ve already had three bars of chocolate, and your monthly supply of Nutella is long gone as well. Sexist, entitled men have dumped their incompetence on your period countless times in just two days and to add to that, the moment you step in front of your mirror, it turns red!

Wait, something didn’t quite add up there, did it? Well, say that to Aristotle! If you think pineapple on pizza is strange, wait till you hear what Classical Greek Mythology has to say about menstruation.

One of the most prominent Greek philosophers, Aristotle, in his text, ‘On Dreams’, talks about how if a menstruating woman stands in front of a mirror, the mirror’s surface will accumulate a reddish, cloud-like stain. He also wrote that the time it would take to remove the stain from the mirror’s reflecting surface is directly affected by the age of the mirror and the day of the woman’s cycle. The newer the mirror, the longer it would take one to rub the stain.

No, there’s more! If she looks in the mirror towards the beginning and the end of her cycle, the stain would be light and more transparent. If she looks in it sometime in the middle of her cycle, the stain would be darker and thicker. This may symbolize the lighter flow of blood during the beginning and the end of the period and heavier flow during the second and third days – as was believed to be the case in ancient Greece.

Whether he simply gave in to popular superstitions or actually conducted an experiment is not known to any, but if you ever experience anything like this, I think it would be safe to blame it on sleep deprivation rather than your period!

Pliny the Elder, another renowned philosopher, in his essay, ‘Natural History’, wrote about how if menstruating women touch crops or a plant, it sterilizes the plant and withers the crop. Cuddling your pet dog while on your period might have given both you and your dog a bad reputation in 500 BCE Greece, because Pliny and most of Greece along with him, believed that a menstruating person touching a dog would turn the d rabid!

On the other hand, he also believed menstrual blood to have certain healing qualities. For example, Pliny believed menstrual blood could cure malaria and leprosy. Considering how empowering Greek Mythology is when it comes to womxn, transgender and non binary folks, the fact that Aristotle could believe in something so absurd might have come as a shock to some of you (or has it, didn’t he also say that Earth was flat?)

Let’s talk about Ptolemy. Yes, yes, he’s the one who invented the map. But, one of his most important and interesting – shall we say – philosophies, talks about his belief that the deepest and strongest desire of a mortal is, has been and always will be achieving immortality and supreme enlightenment through the consumption of ambrosia. And what is ambrosia? You guessed it – menstrual blood!

According to classical mythology, ambrosia is a kind of “supernatural red wine” given to the gods by Hera through her daughter Hebe. One thing that needs to be noted is that immortality, here, does not mean eternal physical presence. Perhaps for the mythological gods, yes, but not for humans. No, for humans, it could simply mean prosperity in life and popularity both in life and after death. After all, anyone and everyone linked to menstruation and the Divine Feminine (for argument’s sake) have successfully made their place in history, whether by worshipping it or by demonizing it.

According to ancient Greek texts, the Norse god Thor achieved immortality after bathing in a river of menstrual blood, called Timur. Similarly, in Taoism, the red Yin juice was believed to give the drinker immortality. Ancient Egyptians also sought to achieve enlightenment by drinking the blood of Isis.

But, Constantine converted to Christianity, and matriarchal Paganism was swept aside by patriarchal Christianity. See how it all adds up? Blood red apple, containing the secret of life that must always be a secret, a crafty snake luring humans into committing the sin of knowing basic science, the petrifying gaze of Greek goddess Medusa (often considered the emblem of menstruation) much like that of a menstruating person in various folklores and lastly, the sin of taking a bite out of the tree of knowledge and thus, consuming the forbidden fruit (wise blood). Petition to change the name of menstrual cups to menstrual chalices?

Mainstream” classical literature has always been too busy building wooden horses, to talk about powerful and misrepresented womxn. Hopefully, modern literature makes room for everyone!

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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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