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Shedding the Stigma — a Long Way to Go in India!

By: Dr. Keerthanaasri J P

Health Content Strategist at Mind and Mom

When I was 13, I had my first periods. The fact that I get to have only 25 days of normalcy hit me hard (yes, I just ignored PMS like it is nothing). Since then, it's been the usual every month; just my uterus shedding, breasts turning tender and cramps practicing ninja techniques within me. To top it all, my body accidentally hits caps lock on emotions.

I realized that periods are ridiculous. I should not be punished for not being pregnant!

However, it was when I voiced out everything wrong associated with it, the society felt that something was wrong with me.

It’s hilarious how some people get uncomfortable the very moment someone mentions the word “period”. Over half the world menstruates at one time or the other; but you wouldn't know. Isn't that strange? Periods are not gross, inappropriate or too weird to talk about. It is just a normal metabolic activity which in fact indicates that a woman's reproductive health is on track. Why the stigma?

Well, my intention is to get rid of this uncomfortable state and the taboo around periods!

I hope my pen is strong enough to produce words that bleed on the paper like menstruation.

What is menstruation?

Every 28 days, on average, your ovaries release an egg and if you fertilize them, your uterus prepares to make a baby.

If you don't fertilize them, your body sheds the lining off your uterus through your vagina causing cyclic bleeding.

That blood is your PERIOD!

Shed the stereotype

A lack of information about menstruation leads to damaging misconceptions and discrimination and can cause girls to miss out on normal childhood experiences and activities.

Many girls do not have a complete and accurate understanding of menstruation as a normal biological process. Given the lack of conversation about periods, according to one study, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they get their first period themselves. Parents rarely prepare their daughters for something they know is bound to happen. And this unpreparedness leads to so much avoidable fear and anxiety. Educating girls before their first period - and, importantly, boys - on menstruation builds their confidence and encourages healthy habits. Such information should be provided at home and at school.

Menstruation misconceptions and the discrimination

Around the world and throughout history, misconceptions about menstruation have led to women’s and girls’ exclusion from all kinds of roles and settings – everything from leadership positions to space travel. Women, transgender and people of any sexual orientation who menstruate could easily spend three to eight years menstruating, during which they might face menstruation-related neglect or discrimination. They must wait for their ovaries to die before they can get their rightful personality back.

They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines and even kept out of kitchens.

In many places around the world, a girl’s first period, called menarche, is believed to be a sign that she is ready for marriage, sexual activity and childbirth. This leaves girls vulnerable to a host of abuses, including child marriage, sexual violence or coercion, and early pregnancy.

Age-old practices and customs which bear no meaning should have no existence in society. Orthodox beliefs which deprive women of their basic rights should be protested against!

Menstruation is not a problem, but poor menstrual hygiene is.

The difficulty of accessing sanitary pads is another major issue. The price tag on the sanitary pads makes it a luxury for people who are socio-economically weaker. For them, it's a toss-up between spending on food for the family or purchasing sanitary napkins.

Nearly 23 % of girls drop out of school annually after they start their periods due to a lack of clean toilets in schools and poor access to sanitary products.

In some cases, women and girls resort to rags, newspapers or other makeshift items to absorb or collect menstrual blood. They may also be prone to leaks, contributing to shame or embarrassment. A lack of access to the right menstrual products may lead to a greater risk of infection.

India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products in 2018 after months of campaigning by activists. Campaigners had argued that menstrual hygiene products were not a luxury and periods were not a choice that a woman could simply opt-out of. However, the tax exemption is only a small step towards a much longer journey of making menstrual health and hygiene an accessible reality for every woman in the country.

Even today, using hygienic methods of protection during menstruation, such as sanitary napkins, tampons, or locally prepared napkins, is far from universal, according to data from the National Family Health Survey 4. The lowest percentage of women between the ages of 15 and 24 use safe methods in Bihar (31%), followed by Madhya Pradesh (37.6%) and Tripura (43.5%). Overall, more women in urban areas use sanitary products during menstruation, as compared to women in rural areas. The highest usage of safe methods during menstruation is in the union territory of Puducherry, at 96.9%.

I Hope India follows suit with countries like Scotland and makes sanitary pads free. Only then can we eradicate 'Period poverty'. Because awareness is good; but availability is better!

Period. End of Sentence is an Oscar-winning documentary that explores menstruation stigma in India and how many Indians still don’t have access to adequate period products and are made to feel ashamed of something that is so natural.

"Menstrual blood is the only source of blood that is not automatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and seldom seen, except privately by women."

-Judy Grahn, American feminist poet and author

India must battle this shame of period stain. Talking is all it takes to begin a transformation to overcome the stigma. Break the silence!



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