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“I Feel Left Out. I Get My Periods Too, And People Just Assume I Am A Female”

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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.

people carrying lgbt flag at a pride
When it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights in India, it’s always been two steps forward, one step back.

Trigger Warning: Transphobia

LGBTQIA+ rights have always been a  point of contention in India. With Section 377 (an act that forbids “sexual acts against the order of nature”) being decriminalized in 2018, the community has been making strides, albeit slowly, towards legal inclusion. While it may be illegal to overtly discriminate against queer people, the community has been the victim of potentially traumatic microaggressions for decades now. 

A study entitled ‘The Economic Cost of Stigma and the Exclusion of LGBT People: A Case Study of India’ by Dr. M. V. Lee Badgett shows clear evidence of the negative outcomes of these microaggressions (the impact of which is referred to as ‘minority stress’). The study quotes different surveys of LGBTQ individuals in India where the cases of suicidal individuals are as high as 45% and depression rates went up to 55%. The stigmatization of therapy has also made it impossible for the community to seek help.

Need For Discrimination-Free Health Care

Minority Stress has made the greatest dent in the LGBTQIA+ community when it comes to health care. Fear of stigma and discrimination has kept individuals of the community away from seeking professional medical help.

Abhina Aher, a member of the hijra community spoke about her experience in this article. Aher had her castration done in a dingy room and was asked to leave just 2 hours after the operation as it was illegal. She also added that most of these surgeries are not done by medical professionals and hence, a lot of people die post-surgery.

“Village medics and babas often prescribe rape to cure lesbians of homosexuality. Refusal to marry brings more physical abuse,” says Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a transwoman and LGBT activist, in a  Livemint article. 

The article also talks about how practices like ‘corrective’ therapy, where LGBTQIA+ individuals are admitted to psych wards and subjected to physical and mental torture, increase distrust in the medical community. 

When Do We Talk About Menstruation?

For the longest time, womanhood has been defined by the ability to menstruate. While it is common knowledge that most people with uteruses bleed, this knowledge is usually limited to cis-women. Trans-men, as well as non-binary people, are rarely spoken about. 

“I feel left out. I get my periods too, and people just assume I am a female,” says Robyn, a student from Mumbai who identifies as genderfluid, in an interview with Socialstory. 

A little known fact is that trans women can bleed too. This article about sex reassignment surgery for trans women explains how the author encountered post-operative bleeding and had to wear sanitary pads for a few weeks. 

“I remember thinking I better savor this experience because it’s a part of a cis girl’s life and I am unlikely to go through it even after I transition successfully,” the author writes. 

Access to proper health care plays an integral role in helping menstruators who are not cis-women. Schools segregate students when it comes to sex education and menstruation is often taught only to girls.

Intersectional education is nowhere to be found, so people of other genders, sexualities,  and abilities are left out. When these children grow up, they often seek help from medical professionals to fill in the gaps that were not covered in school.

Representational image: Trans individuals protest against the systemic discrimination faced by the community.

“We have known days when trans communities could not get past the doors of any public healthcare deliveries in India. Security does not let them in,” says Vivek Anand, CEO of the Humsafar Trust, in an interview with the Guardian. 

The Humsafar Trust started India’s first clinic dedicated to members of the LGBTQ community living with HIV in Mumbai. The clinic provides free treatment to members of the LGBTQ community from low-income backgrounds. But, according to Anand, 30-40% of the people who test HIV positive at the clinic never finish their treatment.

“More than discrimination, self-stigmatization keeps the community away from accessing treatment,” he adds. Lack of education coupled with lack of access to proper counselling services is the root cause of this.

 Access and Accessibility – What needs to change?

Labelling menstruation as a ‘Ladies problem’ has made it difficult for gender non-conforming people to be a part of the discussion. Sanitary napkins have been created and catered towards women.

We need to be focusing on modern innovations like the American company ‘Pyramid Seven’ that created period friendly boxers for trans men and gender non-conforming people. Designed for ‘people who menstruate’, the gender-inclusive line and others like it must be included in sex-education so that the LGBTQIA+ community knows that there are other options out there. 

In 2017, transgender artist and activist Cass Clemmer posted a photograph on Instagram holding a sign that said “Periods are not just for women” with the hashtag #BleedingWhileTrans. While the photograph started a conversation around menstruation in the non-binary community, it also invited a lot of unsolicited transphobic comments.

Clemmer also penned an article for HuffPost about their personal experience with menstruation as a non-binary trans person. The article talks about how periods not only increase the body dysphoria that trans people feel but also makes it incredibly difficult in public situations as men’s bathrooms don’t have the proper bins or spaces when trans people can safely change their sanitary products.

The Black of gender-neutral bathrooms has been an issue in India as well. 

“Going to the washroom in public while looking masculine hasn’t been pleasant. Gender-neutral bathrooms need to be provided in more places, not just cafes and restaurants” says Val, a resident of Mumbai, who was also interviewed by Socialstory.

 Changing Legislature

When it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights in India, it’s always been two steps forward, one step back. The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in the 2014 NALSA v. Union of India case was a positive step, but the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act passed in 2019 effectively strips trans people of the right to self identify. 

Protest against Trans Bill 2018
Representational Image: Queer community protests against the regressive Trans Bill 2018.

Instead of forcing the trans community to undergo expensive irreversible sex-reassignment surgery in order to be able to identify as who they want to be, there should be a focus on education and effective implementation of anti-discrimination policies.

Increased representation of the trans community, stringent punishment for discrimination in hospitals and clinics,  and gender-neutral restrooms, as well as sanitary products, is the way forward.

There needs to be a holistic reform of the educational systems in order for these changes to happen. Open inclusive conversations and erasing all preconceived notions is the only way we can change harmful regressive mindsets that have made life difficult for the LGBTQIA+ community.

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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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