We were a family of 5 and both my parents work. I have two siblings as an elder sister and younger brother. I was 13 and all set to go to school wearing my school uniform and suddenly my mother who is a teacher herself and my elder sister came running and telling me not to go to school. I was surprised why would I not as I am already ready for school….then my sister like a secret mission asked me to come to the toilet and gave a piece of cloth and asked me to wear in a certain manner and I was all surprised thinking what all is happening why is she asking me do it …. She asked … I did… without been informed what is that and why I am asked to wear a cloth … why I didn’t got school that and the subsequent days after that…
My sister asked to see the stains on my skirt and I didn’t even knew where it came from neither I have been told what and how and why all these blood in my cloth.. all I was told was to wear this cloth and sit in one place of my house after which both my mother and sister left for school respectively.
I never realised that the same was happening to my mother as well. It was a taboo that no one spoke to me or educated me about it. According to our traditions, we were made to sit in one corner without touching anything. Though my parents were quite well educated, we never discussed this at home. I used to console myself and fight with God why we have to go through such pain instead of going out and play with my friends. Today, I have two little daughters and I am definitely going to discuss with them and prepare them for it. Which I believe will make it much easier for them to handle. With this knowledge of menstruation my very 41 years of existence is going on….
Here by sharing my personal experience I wanted to bring this taboo subject of menstruation to everyone’s notice yet again. The word menstruation itself is heard as negative term both by women and men. I was personally appalled by the hygiene condition of women in India and I thought to myself that something needs to be done.
Women think it is a problem but the very existence of women and menstruation is complimenting and because women menstruate she is a “women” which is indirectly a sign of healthy women. In the other hand men must understand that it is a natural process by which women becomes a mother a nurturer and life comes to this earth. But we must make both young women and men understand the reality of menstruation and the benefits attached to women.
When I was a position to serve the society my first agenda was to touch this issues so no girl like me at the age of 13 would be surprised and think it is an alien thing happening to a girl. Keeping this in mind, through my CSR position I conceptualise this project and implemented in a slum in Delhi an effort called Swavalamban alongside the United Sisters Foundation. The project focused on areas like education, health, environment, economics and empowerment. After the study, we stumbled across some grim figures. For example, in a place called Tadapur godown, 80% women did not have access to a toilet, and we talk about advancement of the nation. The situation of menstrual health management was even destitute. Though, it was encouraging for me to know that after our orientation, many women changed their perception and were more receptive towards a hygienic approach to menstrual activities.
The main objective for me to launch this initiative was to sensitise women and girls, and more importantly encourage them to speak out about this ‘taboo’. We wanted to make them and the men in the society that it is a natural phenomenon and not something unholy or shocking. There is also a commercial angle attached to the companies selling sanitary pads. We all saw in the movie Padman how cost effective it is to manufacture sanitary pads, but large companies only for their profits and economies do not let these prices fall. More so, sanitary pads are not beneficial to the environment as well. Multinationals producing these pads should focus more on promoting cloth pads, cups etc. During our campaign in Tadapur, we made sure that women know exactly what is safe to use and best for their health. Some women were more apprehensive than others, but our mission was only to bring the message forward and leave the decision making to them.
Even though we believe ourselves to be global citizens, you would be shocked to know the amount of superstition and bigotry we possess. One student from Lucknow started a campaign in Rajasthan to spread awareness about sanitary napkins and to understand the psychology of women for not using it. Many women said that they would get pregnant if a man saw their disposed pads which some thought it is way too dirty. There were some who actually wanted to use it but cannot due to financial reasons or inaccessibility. The substitutes in such cases end up being ashes and sand. If that is shocking, you will be perplexed to know that nations like Nepal have criminalised discrimination related to menstruation while India still does not have any policy or law related.
We always assume that everyone knows what needs to be done. But that is far from the truth. Women and children across the nation are not even aware of the menstrual issues plaguing them. For instance, a school girl committed suicide when she got periods, thinking it to be some deadly disease and the society would shame her for this. Such episodes are downright audacious and should not happen in the first place. At fault is not that kid but we, the society, and even her parents to not inform her of such structural changes taking place in her body. We need to get rid of this social stigma associated with menstrual hygiene and change people’s perception.
Another mind boggling phenomenon in India is that sanitary pads are categorised under miscellaneous which also contains products like pencils, towels etc. Shouldn’t something as essential as sanitary pads fall under ‘health’? And shouldn’t they be a hundred percent tax free for starters? India accounts for one of the largest number of women suffering from cervical cancer. There have been numerous studies which show the linkage between causes of cervical cancer and poor menstrual health. And the issue of categorising sanitary pads as ‘miscellaneous’ is also hampering its quality, which would be much stringent if it was a health product.
In India, still there are more than 80 per cent women who are not using sanitary pads compared to other Asian nations like Indonesia, Thailand or even China where the percentage is much lower at around 50 per cent. India has a long way before actually being called a developed nation, if its citizens have to fight for basic amenities. The first step is to identify these things as basic amenities. The project Swavalamban which I previously discussed also highlighted health problems where almost 50% women faced issues related to menstrual health. More so, access to health care even in developed metropolitans is a gigantic task for these women.
Many private companies are trying to penetrate the less developed areas of the country through their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. But after all, we are a democracy and this is something the government should be accountable for. Yes, we should do all our part in dissolving the evils of superstition and misconception, and maybe the situation will improve gradually. I was part of one initiative, but a lot more is needed. Through this article, I want to start a wave of awareness on such issues, related to menstruation and sustainable menstruation. It is the first step in many to come, including other issues like education, safety of women which need to be dealt with. I hope my one step can inspire many. After all, what good are we as a society if we cannot improve it? #riseabove