This is a series of posts in partnership with PERIOD.org for National Period Day.
Every month It comes,
It ebbs then runs,
Bloated and hungry,
I still manage to run free
My mother says, “It doesn’t hurt me”
My sister stares at her, curiously
For her it’s not the pain -
But the discomfort from Its strain
When I ask Geeta, she’s quieter,
And there are many others like her -
Who shy away from the spot
It leaves on their cloth...
I couldn’t enumerate the times I’ve asked people to “check me” while I walk away. Nor can I enumerate the times I've, in turn, gazed at my friends’ bottoms in an effort to spot the dot. For some, a stain is simply a signal to change sanitary napkins, tampons or menstrual cups. For others, it’s about concealing the monthly visitor from the outside world.
In India, menstruating is hidden yet heavily layered, not unlike an onion. Layers include a lack of resources, the un-affordability of sanitary products for low-income families and, finally, a lack of education, perpetuated by age-old customs and patriarchal norms that give rise to isolating practices.
We’re on opposite and all sides of the spectrum - fueling a confused and convoluted impression of periods. Our traditional side, on the one hand, is banning daughters (of “menstruating age”) from entering temples and kitchens, and on the other, worshipping menstruating Goddesses. Our progressive side, is innovating eco-friendly sanitary napkins but also setting up basics such as toilets in rural India. Meanwhile, my neighbor is finding it hard to approach the local pharmacist to buy pads.
Issues in India are manifold, but cyclical nonetheless. Perceptions feed practice; the perception that menstruation is a "big deal" makes it a difficult topic to approach others with. Menstruation demands normalization. And while I hear period conversations getting louder, it’s more important to be having them with the right people. It’s time to peel the onion.
Speak to schools about educating students (girls and boys).
When I was in school, the girls who “started” formed a separate group to whisper about it the corner. Meanwhile the rest of the class was deciphering what they were gossiping about. A report by Dasra suggests 23% of young girls drop out of school due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities.
If menstruation were to be treated as the basic bodily function it is, then schools could bring it to their primary coursework. Keeping quiet or discussing it only with peers who know just as little about it, could confuse the facts. While education is only part of the battle (the bigger being access to resources), it would at least provide the level of comfort needed to speak or ask questions when needed.
Speak to mothers about preparing their daughters.
I remember my first period - it felt daunting and terrifying. A lack of awareness, albeit accompanied by myths and superstition from society, makes it seem as though periods are dirty or worse – “a curse.”
In turn, period care is tricky to discuss. With sanitary napkins being the more expensive option for low-income families in rural India, clean cloth is a good alternative. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand the distinction of using absorbent and sterilized material over local alternatives – if unclean, can increase susceptibility to reproductive tract infections. In 2015, 88% of women still use local alternatives such as tree barks, ashes, leaves.
Speak to governments and manufacturers to focus on accessibility.
Twenty-seven percent of the world’s cervical cancer (caused by poor menstrual hygiene) deaths occur in India. Nearly a third of the world’s cervical cancer cases come from India - menstrual hygiene products are not luxuries but necessities. Funding to create affordable sanitary material for rural India, toilets in schools & homes and widespread education campaigns are needed now more than ever.
Ironically, half the world’s population is experiencing this well-kept secret. Conversation to normalize menstruation is the least we can do. While it’s positive to see issues surrounding menstrual hygiene being elicited in mainstream media, captured in films like ‘Pad Man’ or documentaries like ‘Period. End of Sentence,’ or covered internationally (Sabarimala Temple), we still haven’t quite mastered the “Flow” in daily conversation.
...To Geeta, I say
Once I felt the same way
But I looked around to find,
That It is not only mine.