“I panicked and broke down into tears!” says one of our menstruators, Payal Tak, narrating her experience on her first period as part of our ongoing campaign #myfirstperiod, which aims to break the stigma around menstruation by speaking about it.
In the past few years we have found people more vocal about it and working together to end the stigmas around it. There have been movies, commercials, campaigns and movement by several NGO’s and celebrities all trying to make it less of a taboo and of a normal monthly affair. But alas, a lot of stigma still remains!
Menstruation or periods is still referred to as “that time of the month” by many of us. We are still not quite comfortable conversing on the subject and refer to menstruation in code words not mentioning the exact biological or common names for the same. It still remains the hush hush kind of subject.
Periods are still not felt as a reason enough to take leave from work or school and are being covered up by other health reasons such as cold, cough or fever and stomach ache being the prevalent one. However, we all know quite well that periods can make you feel unwell just like any other health issues.
In many parts of the country, a young menstruator is unaware about menstruation and what will exactly happens until one experiences it for the first time. A report titled Spot On published in 2014, by an NGO named Dasra highlighted that 70% of the mothers consider menstruation ‘dirty’. According to Supriya Khanna of Indian Council for Medical Research, “Women across India grow up remaining unaware of the real reasons for menstruation and the importance of menstrual hygiene. The taboo surrounding menstruation remains a part of their growing up and continues with their daughters. Hence, the lack of awareness is carried forward via generations in India”. If the mother, who is mostly the first contact and source of information for a young menstruator, herself believes it to be a matter of shame then the barriers of taboo around menstruation can never be broken.
Another significant issue is that young menstruators are found to drop out of school due to reasons, viz; lack in accessibility of basic menstrual hygiene products, dilapidated or no toilets at all. In a country like ours where illiteracy is already a major issue, it adds to that. It is highly problematic because dropping out of school generally leads to early marriage, followed by ill-informed and early pregnancy in women leading to a myriad of other problems.
Not entering the kitchen, not touching the holy books or not worshipping while menstruating are some of the common practices still followed by the women in our country. A lot of dietary restrictions like avoiding sour foods (curd, tamarind and pickles) are also imposed upon menstruating women in some parts of the country. Also, exercising is not allowed for menstruating women considering it will aggravate menstrual cramps. All in all, menstruating women are considered impure and not allowed to do many such things which they normally do. Whereas, as long as the basic hygiene standards are adhered to during periods, there is no other scientific reason to follow any such restrictions.
Meenakshi Sharma, Coordinator for Menstrual Hygiene Management, WASH Alliance has rightly quoted, “The problems with menstruation in India are that they are similar to a chain of command, related to each other. There is no awareness on menstruation, hence it is considered dirty. Being a ‘dirty’ occurrence, a menstruating girl in rural regions is isolated or forced to drop out of school as unlike urban areas, access to sanitary napkins there is low. This cycle is handed over from mother to daughter but the taboo on menstruation remains”, which pretty much sums it all up.
A young menstruator gets caught up with all the cultural and social restrictions associated with menstruation. A lot of such practices do not hold any scientific significance, yet are followed by women due to either not being equipped with enough knowledge on the subject or simply being afraid to hurt the cultural sentiments, considering themselves to be keepers of the age-old customs.
Such myths around menstruation still linger in our societies owing to many reasons, lack of education around the topic being the prominent one. Hence, the need arises of talking about it openly and educating the masses on what exactly it is and why it is absolutely normal.
Menstruation, or period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs due to shedding of the inner lining of uterus every month, which in turn, discharges blood and mucosal through the vagina.
The rise and fall of hormones leads to the occurrence of the menstrual cycle. As a result of which, growth of an egg takes place in the ovary and is released into the uterus around 14th day of the cycle. The uterus on the other hand prepares for implantation of the egg by thickening its lining, which is meant to provide nutrients to the embryo after its implantation. When pregnancy does not occur, uterus sheds this lining and it is released through the vagina. This entire procedure is known as menstruation.
It is the silence and the shame which dominates the knowledge on menstruation. This impacts the emotional and most importantly, the physical health of many women in our country.
Due to low menstrual hygiene, scarce availability of menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads, a lot of women in the rural and semi urban areas still use old cloth, sand, old socks, ash, hay and such other unusual things to absorb the menstrual blood, due to which 70% of them suffer from Reproductive Tract Infections and other related health issues as pointed out in the above mentioned report titled Spot On!
The problem doesn’t end here. The basic menstrual hygiene product is sanitary napkin in our country which is primarily made of plastic and disposing of the same causes a major threat to the environment, alternatives to which, are eco-friendly sanitary pads, eco-friendly tampons and menstrual cups. Hence, the need arises to not only speak up of menstrual hygiene but also eco-friendly menstrual hygiene.
Also, tax is still being imposed on all the menstrual hygiene products, citing them as non-essential and hence, making them costlier and less accessible.
It is quite evident that we need to work on provision of menstrual hygiene products and educating the women about menstrual hygiene to reduce health issues occurring due to it, rather than creating stigma around it.
Also, every woman doesn’t bleed and not every person who bleeds is a woman. It is something which is very normal and hence should be treated normally by all genders. Menstruation should also not be looked upon as a boon for reproduction, which should be a choice for women not an imposition. Hence, there are many women who don’t bleed and that should not be a reason to treat them any inferior to the women who do. A lot of trans men and non-binary individuals have to deal with menstruation too. When the taboo around menstruation is making life difficult for women, imagine the stigma trans men and other non-binary individuals who experience menstruation have to go through.
We at Spread Love And Peace (SLAP) have been trying to de-stigmatise it for quite a long time now and are inclusively working with the menstruators in reaching the goal.
breaking the stigmas in and around menstruation. Be it lack of accessibility of menstrual hygiene products or hardships faced by young menstruators during their first period, these campaigns are all designed and run with an one point focus on making menstruation a bit more easy affair for all the menstruators.
Not only campaigns, SLAP has time and again invited guest speakers working in similar areas to share their insights, gathered by the noble work they have been doing.
#DOT is another campaign in which SLAP invites artists, making their art a medium to talk about menstruation every year during the month of May as a part of celebrating the Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28th of May.
SLAP has also been actively organising interactive sessions for menstruators of all age and have also worked in collecting donations and distribution of menstrual hygiene products to the menstruators in need.
As the saying goes that Unity is Strength, we urge all the menstruators to come forward, join hands with us and share their experience. Hopefully, together we will be able to make a difference.
A lot of noise has been made, a lot of voices heard. But, we have yet a long way to go. More or less we need to bridge the gap between the stigma and acceptance to such a level that people are willing to fund small scale organisations, initiatives and NGOs working in this regard. We are struggling in this criteria too and need your love and support to help us, help you to change lives.
Here are the links of our previous and ongoing programs:
· Getting My Period Made Me Feel Like Less of a Man—Even Though I Knew I Was: By Kenny Jones in Self
· Spot On! A report published in 2014 by NGO named Dasra
Written By: Poonam Atreya, Content Writer at Spread Love And Peace (SLAP)