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Periods 101: No A Pad Isn’t A Diaper To Hold Pee In!

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North Korean women soldiers are forced to reuse pads, and due to lack of nutrition for several months continuously, they stop getting their periods altogether. Sally Ride was the first female NASA astronaut to go to space. Her trip was to last for one week, and her male colleagues wanted to send her to space with 100 tampons.

One hundred tampons for one week!

 

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A group of scientists performed a study in 1960, believing that since men wear lighter and consume less, they would function better in the cramped spaces of a space shuttle. Out of 32 men, 18 passed the rigorous testing. Out of 18 women, 13 passed the test.

Women qualified with a better ratio than men; 72.2% women vs 56.25% men. They concluded that women were better suited for space than men. Still, since NASA only accepted people who graduated from jet training, women could not apply for the NASA astronaut program, as women couldn’t apply for jet training.

It would take another ten years for NASA to accept its first woman candidate in the 1980s but still worried about women menstruating in space while they had to control such a complicated machine. Did they not know that a woman’s prominent hormones are testosterone during periods, making them more “manly”?

Ah, the irony!

When I was in 11th, I asked my closest guy friend what he thought a pad does and what he thought periods were. He replied, “A pad is like a diaper. To hold your pee.” I didn’t know whether I should’ve laughed or wept; the situation was funny and sad. Then I explained what periods are, and he was shaken. “So you mean to tell me girls bleed for five days and still worked as if everything is normal? How do you manage it?” he asked in genuine wonder.

A woman angrily listening myths about periods
FYI, non-menstruators, we cannot hold our periods in. Representational image.

Another time when I was outside with my friends, I felt the telltale signs of my period coming. I wasn’t wearing a pad, and I am not ashamed saying the “P-word“, so I told them I needed to go home as I was menstruating, and one of my guy friends asked me to hold it in. Yes, he said that.

FYI, non-menstruators, we cannot hold our periods in. So you might be wondering why non-menstruators need to know about menstruation. Let me tell you why. A lack of understanding of periods might lead to “how bad can it be” syndrome in non-menstruators aged 35 and younger and “period problems? This is why women should stay at home” syndrome in the older generation non-menstruators.

Marie Claire reports that there are only three countries where the number of female bosses is greater than male bosses. So you see, we have a greater chance of facing and dealing with a male boss than a female one. A male boss thinks menstruation is an excuse, which is why women should not be hired in the workforce. About half of Indian startups and 40% of managers avoid hiring women, so that they need to provide paid maternity leave. If they do not understand how periods affect us, period leaves will also discriminatory affect hiring menstruators.

So yes, it matters that non-menstruators understand what periods are and how they affect us.

The Process

The menstruation cycle is run by shifting levels of various hormones in a menstruator’s body. I’ll try my best to explain it as simply as a possible, promise.

The menstrual cycle usually lasts for about 28-34 days. The first phase is menstruation. Menstruation is the process in which a person sheds their uterine layer. Periods can last from 2 days (lucky!) to 7 days (I feel you). The second phase is where eggs start to form in the ovaries.

The third phase is where the egg bursts out from the ovaries and sticks itself to the uterine layer; this phase is usually the most fertile phase meaning unprotected sex during this time has high chances of leading to pregnancy. In the final phase, if the egg is not fertilized, it withers and is absorbed into the uterine lining.

Since pregnancy has not occurred, the progesterone level drops, which causes the uterine layer to shed, hence menstruation, and the whole cycle repeats.

A girl suffering from PMS/PMDD
PMS or premenstrual syndrome is a range of symptoms experienced by menstruators before just before their period begins and even during periods. Representational image.

PMS

This word is thrown around like free money, especially to discredit menstruators and their emotions. “Why are you so angry? Are you PMSing?” No! They might be PMSing, they might not be PMSing, but that shouldn’t bother you.

PMS or premenstrual syndrome is a range of symptoms experienced by menstruators before just before their period begins and even during periods. The symptoms can range from mood swings to cramps, headache, backache, tender breasts, nausea, constipation and in extreme cases, even losing consciousness.

Every period is different, and people experience it differently. Some people do not experience PMS at all, and on the other hand, some people’s PMS gets so bad that they need bed rest.

There is a range of remedies for PMS, but PMS and periods in general cause discomfort to some extent at the end of the day. Lack of understanding and disregard from non-menstruators makes it worse. We should stop acting as if it’s a crime to feel irritated when we are bleeding and in pain.

Pain

For a lot of people, pain and periods go hand in hand. I experience a lot of pain, especially during my first three days. It gets so bad that I physically cannot lie down in peace. Everyone who has gone through a painful period knows that a hot water bag and medication is our best friend.

Cramps, headaches, and lower backache are likely due to prostaglandins, a hormone that plays a significant role in contracting the uterus to shed the uterine lining. Severe pain which does not decrease by using over the counter medication can be a sign of dysmenorrhea, and in that case, do not be shy to seek help from a doctor.

Here you go, an essential guide to what menstruators experience every month. Going through periods doesn’t make us weak. You can not pick and point who is menstruating just by looking at them. Periods happen to us every month for about 30-40 years of our life! So let’s no longer keep periods a hush-hush topic and embrace it— the more people who understand periods, the better because you know someone who deals with menstruation.

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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
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