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Those Menstruating Are Expected To Stayfree, But Are Still Whispering

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Every pubescent girl and woman of slightly older age groups are expected to Stayfree, but they are still Whispering (pun intended). While menstruating is a monumental achievement that tells a girl she has transformed into a woman, for the society and the girl’s parents, she has entered a dangerous stage for the rest of her life (and somehow theirs).

All this because from the age of menarche, there is a possibility of girls’ getting pregnant. So they are deemed dirty either for indulging in sexual activities and getting knocked up accidentally or because their bodies are secreting blood, which is considered impure.

What is Society Doing? What are Parents Doing?

Menstruation is taught to be a strength, a natural process, but is stigmatised and given meaning in a fearful manner.

The answer is simple and undeniable: they are educating us about periods in their best manner. But what is this education?

On the one hand, menstruation is taught to be a strength, a natural process, and despite making a girl’s body different from a boy’s, it makes her body healthy and meaningful. On the other hand, this strength is stigmatised and given meaning in a fearful manner. We are supposed to be aware of the menstrual process, and at the same time, be careful enough to conceal it.

There aren’t many outlets for this information. A girl can talk to her mother, a female teacher, or her long term partner about it depending on how they feel about the “dirty” topic of blood flow. In a manner, girls are told they’re strong for bearing the pain, but they are treated as outcasts, and their bodies do not fit into the momentum of daily life, especially when they’re menstruating.

The War for Freedom

In this neoliberal age in India, several privileged girls and women have found their menstrual freedom. However, many others are still trapped in the vicious cycle of myths and religious controversies. Sadly, they do not even know they are supposed to fight and express their pain, so they succumb to various kinds of imprisonments and shame.

Women are rewarded or punished for their periods, depending on if they’re avoiding or expecting pregnancies. Either way, they’re trapped. Several myths revolve around period mania. It is completely normal and not a disease. Still, some households bar their girls and women from touching jars of pickles and utensils, based on the assumption that pickles grow fungi and spoil, and utensils become impure if menstruating people touch them.

The quarantine which people are in as a result of COVID-19 exists in a woman’s life since and for all the days she menstruates. During those days, she is asked to stay in a separate room so that others are not aware of her potential bloody leaks, the smell associated with periods and the possibility of leaving impure stains wherever she sits.

How do People Cope and Behave?

Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review.

With the mixed messages that tell us we are strong and also set us apart from the normal into this new normal, which makes us deviant, girls get confused. We are closeted when it comes to periods and leaving a slug of sweat wherever we sit becomes embarrassing. While many girls have found answers to their menstrual dilemmas through their family, many others have sought answers through other girls.

In schools, workplaces, libraries, cafes, restaurants and other public spaces, a girl still whispers in the other’s ear to check for a stain on her dress/jeans when she gets up. And after walking two steps, she would turn and dig for assurance in the friend’s gaze. 

As if concealment of our biological process was not enough, sometimes women tend to feel pressured because of varying physical strengths while menstruating. One’s female friend might be stronger during periods, so it seems weak on one’s part to feel lethargic and different from the friend. All this because of the shaming a woman’s natural bodily process is subjected to.

Period Poverty: Conquering Unaffordability

Menstruation Hygiene Products
For women to acquire a rightful position, far from societal misfits when they are menstruating, we must incorporate open discussions about our bodily processes from one’s formative years.

While the title is self-explanatory, it also isn’t. Period Poverty does not only mean how some women cannot afford the right equipment for their menstruation. It also indicates how every girl and woman is subjected to this kind of poverty because of its unacceptability.

Our public spaces are unaccommodating to our needs as women and associates jokes, punishment and disgust to our bodies. If a menstruating girl, still studying in school, shyly requests a teacher to excuse her for bathroom, first of all, she cannot find the right ways to dispose of her used pads or tampons (this is again a subject that is a stigma at least in India, frowned upon in several households who raise their girl’s with the idea that inserting anything in their vagina is abominating). Secondly, if she is late to return to her class, she is punished.

Girls and Women going to offices are said to have been allowed freedom and independence. However, these spaces are trapping us women the most by not catering to our bodily needs. Our offices or schools don’t have pad machines or tampons available for free in the bathrooms. This kind of unaffordability, sometimes because of the lack of money and knowledge, and other times because of unequipped spaces, becomes the reason for disgust, fear, and vile associations to menstruation and menstruating women.

No matter how much we earn, we still need to hide our pads, tampons and have extra ones secretly ready in our bags in case of emergencies because our spaces refuse to provide free products.

In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir beautifully explains menstruation as the process where all things are made ready for a child and then aborted in the crimson flow, in a woman’s body monthly. However, this explanation is something we are never told.

For women to acquire a rightful position, far from societal misfits when they are menstruating, we must incorporate open discussions about our bodily processes from one’s formative years.

Finally, confiding in girl-friends is fine, but if necessary explanations would root from families and schools (stressing less privileged areas and social classes here), we can save our girls from being stigmatised for bad odours, concealment of blood and being misfits during their menstruation.

The next step, all the more necessary in our present times, is to incorporate free sanitary products for women in public spaces and also talk about their importance freely.

By Sakshi Arya

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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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