We must make the menstruation narrative about girls and women instead of pads and pad men
The last two years have seen the conversations around menstruation skyrocket. First India celebrated PadMan and just in tow the world is celebrating Period. End of Sentence. now. And rightly so. For years, activists working on menstruation have made “breaking the silence”, “end the silence” and “no shame periods” their slogans because that’s what periods were about — silence and shame. Finally, the (mighty) Oscars has recognised the much-shushed and tabooed blood, giving it the legitimacy women have fought for years now.
Each year, May 28 is celebrated as Menstrual Hygiene Day worldwide. Celebrate we must, because silence is broken and slogans are changing. Celebrate we must, because menstruation is not about 100-odd activists and a handful of organisations anymore. And celebrate we must because now, women can dream beyond just ending the silence.
Menstruation is a concern because it has always been clouded in misconceptions that have perpetuated over generations. Girl after girl finds her period abnormal, scary and impure making her feel shameful, undeserving and dirty. And girl after girl is found being discreet about them fighting a lonely battle, within herself because there is no one to talk to.
Even now, there are girls who reach menarche but are unaware why blood is flowing between their legs. Conversations at home are murky with no one really talking about what is happening, while the girl is handed a laundry list of “things not to do from now on”. Puberty is tough, but periods make them tougher. Family, peers, colleagues and society at large are oblivious of what a girl or woman goes through during her period.
Now, the silence is broken and everyone is discussing periods in their living rooms and over dinner table conversations (or so I hope). Even boys and men put up status where they mention the word period for the first time.
So, this could be a good time to sit back and think hard about what is menstruation and ask why it has been invisible all along? Why are we so ecstatic about a film on a normal bodily function? And why do we like to believe that sanitary napkins can solve all of a woman’s problems? What does this celebration mean on the ground?
Today, let’s take a moment to discuss the inconvenient truth, that is, patriarchy. Demystify menstruation that is made to hide behind derogatory and complicated phrases. Learn about the myths and taboos around periods followed by the women in our houses and that sanitary pads do not absorb them. Understand the fact that for a woman to manage her period hygienically and with dignity and confidence, she needs a support system who knows what she feels.
While the world celebrates, there remain millions of girls who will start their period today, tomorrow and day after not knowing what is happening to them. Therefore, celebrate we must but with caution.
Remember that the ongoing conversations are not a win, but just a first step provided we are willing to engage in uncomfortable discussions about a woman’s right over her own body. A woman’s right to decide whether or not she wants to enter a holy place when on her period and about her preferred choice of menstrual absorbent, over what the market decides what she must use.
Let’s hear about the insanely absurd places girls have had to change during their periods because there are hardly any safe and hygienic toilets in Swachh Bharat for girls to use. Let’s hear from the sportswomen the discrimination they faced because of periods. Let’s hear from working women the prejudice they faced because they started bleeding at an unexpected hour. Let’s also hear from the stay at home women about how a period does not give them a break from their work. And remember that a woman’s dignity lies in her ability to make a decision in all of the above and not in using a particular product.
The present conversations will be a win, if we use this noise to ensure that we question the distribution of sub-standard pads to girls in rural and semi-urban India (and many other parts of the world) because girls in rural India deserve the same dignity as girls who can afford expensive menstrual absorbents in urban India. Demand education about menstruation for every girl, because periods are not a choice and neither should the knowledge about them be.
If we continue to make disposable pads the hero of our conversation, we are all just going to drown in a big pile of used sanitary napkins where girls will continue to be confused and perplexed. A short film following a large film will not change things unless we do.
The need is to change the narrative; make menstruation about girls and women, and not about pads and pad men.
(The author is an alumnus of change.org’s She Creates Change Learning Lab. She works to paint the landscape red and runs a campaign to make menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools. The link to her petition is http://chng.it/JHhgZL472D).
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