Suman, from the Oscar winning film (2019), “Period – End of sentence”, lovingly known as PadWomen of India talks about her journey and fight for menstrual awareness in the podcast called, Small Big Wins. Right in the beginning, Harsh Vardhan Jajoo, the creator and host of the podcast series tells her that talking to her during the Navratri’s is like a holy offering to him. To which she replies, ‘you consider it as the Navratri’s holy offering but talking about menstruation during the festival is widely considered unholy where menstruating women are restricted from offering prayers’, and considers it a huge step to see a man initiating a discussion on the topic.
Don’t enter the kitchen, temple or touch the holy books. Isolate yourself, you’re impure and evil. Don’t talk about menstruation and keep the pads hidden. These and many other existing myths related to menstruation remain a major cause for gender – based discrimination that restricts women from education, equality and employment and instead inflict shame on the gender.
The issues that arise in relation to menstruation are strongly associated with gendered practices. There remains a lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene and issues arising from deeply rooted myths, stigmas and practices. Then comes the lack of acceptance towards the bodily process of menstruation which is not considered as normal. Which in return promotes the stereotypes around menstruation. Followed by lack of access to basic hygiene facilities, products and medical care.
The lack of acceptance can be understood by taking the example of the 2018 Supreme Court Verdict. Which allowed women who were in their ‘menstruating years’ enter into Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple breaking the age-old custom. The verdict was met by resentment.
On the other hand, isolating women and forcing them to live in dangerous conditions highlights the lack of acceptance prevalent in many communities and cultures in India. Periods are one of primary reasons due to which girls drop out of schools and their participation in other activities remain restricted. Heavy taxes on sanitary pads until 2018 shows the lack of access to products required for healthy and safe menstruation. Even after the removal of 12% GST on sanitary napkins, the cost remains high for the rural population where taboos and gender-based discriminations persists.
Ntozake Shange, a poet, writer and a feminist in her poem, “we need a god who bleeds now”, writes:
i am/not wounded, I am bleeding to life
we need a god who bleeds now
whose wounds are not the end of anything
In second stanza, Shange writes: “our mothers tearing to let us in
this place breaks open
like our mothers bleeding”.
With all the shame around women, menstruation and their bodies. How can we forget that the end of one’s cycle is preparation for possible pregnancy? For human life?
Rhythm Rastogi, known as the PadGirl of Vadodara, Gujarat has been working in the field of menstrual hygiene awareness in the state since she was 14 years old. In her TEDx talk in 2018, the 18-year-old begins with asking questions from the men in the audience, ‘what are brands of sanitary napkins they are aware of apart from whisper and Stayfree’. Followed by, ‘what do they think about is the most efficient method of disposing of a sanitary pad’. The questions hardly receive any responses which only highlight our low awareness towards menstruation and knowledge about period products.
Questions such as these are important to ask to initiate talk about periods beyond gender. To start off with a more empathetic, inclusive and understanding attitude is significant to destigmatize menstruation that associates periods to only womanhood. Not all women menstruate and awareness about the same is restricted due to social and cultural limitations around menstruation. On the other hand, referring to the ones who experience it as ‘menstruating women’ does not help in adjusting to the fact that periods are genderless, a natural body phenomenal which can be experienced by a person who identifies with any gender. Including transgender and non – binary people is important to dismantle misinformation and cultures of shame which has been long associated with menstruation.
In July 2021, Whisper, a multi – corporation finally started showing period blood as red in colour instead of blue. This practice has been going on for decades in Indian advertisements. There are several other advertisements and brands that represent the period blood as blue. The unrealistic representation only adds on the stigmas and false notions that continue to prevail in the minds of the general public. In march 2020, RIO heavy flow pads by Nobel Hygiene were the first sanitary pad advertisement which showed menstruation in its natural colour, red. Apart from the colour, advertisements hardly counter any taboos and instead stick to portraying periods as a disease or unhygienic which can be cured or looked after only after using the sanitary pads being marketed.
Inadequate options for menstrual hygiene are a cause for several issues pertaining to the education of girls. Including poor participation, drop out and low enrolment in schools. It becomes important for the girls to be aware of their first menstrual period and knowledge of managing their periods in the environment they are part of. Because inadequate management can lead to health concerns and put them at the risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections. Along with that, the taboos add on to the physical and psychological burden. The advertisements not covering the pain and discomfort due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and portraying a skewed representation is equally responsible for misinforming the people who menstruate as they fail to resonate completely with the picture being shown.
There is a growing shift in terms of language being used to target menstruation as genderless, technology and sustainable menstruation, alternatives and ensuring period positivity. While all these factors are crucial but cannot be solely credited for revolutionizing menstruation. It is necessary we create safe spaces for dialogue and which helps is binding policy decisions and creates an open, accessible and inclusive discourse on menstruation. A long battle needs to be fought for menstrual equity to ensure safe menstruation for all.