Tuesday, June 27, 2017
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It’s not bad blood

Winds of change are slowly blowing away the sense of unneccesary shame about menstruation. Women have realised that they will have to break their silence if they want to create awareness about hygiene25 Jun 2017 | 1:28 AM

Menstruation — for a long time this word had only been spoken in hushed voices, a little uncomfortably or in embarrassed tones, usually as part of girly talk.

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Jasmine Singh

Menstruation — for a long time this word had only been spoken in hushed voices, a little uncomfortably or in embarrassed tones, usually as part of girly talk. 

Hidden under the cloak of shame, this taboo subject has created many myths, on whose altar menstrual hygiene has been sacrificed. The products, sanitary napkins, tampons etc., necessary to deal with this process are being sold and bought furtively in black polythene bags. And God forbid! If a girl/woman gets blood stains on her clothes, these Sita’s daughters would want the earth to open up and swallow them. 

However, winds of change are slowly blowing away this sense of unnecessary shame, as many women and a cross-section of men are openly discussing about this natural process on various public and social platforms. So, why are these whispers growing into a clamour? What is breaking this law of omerta?

Because the lack of hygiene brought on due to the refusal to talk about it has raised some major health concerns, forcing people to break the silence. 

The initiative to start the movement on social media, hashtaged as #HappyToBleed, may go to a few progressive women, discussing their problems about periods, but celebrities like Akshay Kumar have brought the issue under sharper focus. He recently announced his upcoming film, Padman, that is based on the life of a social activist, Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who gave a fillip to this movement by providing low-cost, affordable sanitary pads. Yet another film, Phullu, based on a similar theme has been released recently and is getting rave reviews. The movie discusses the problems of menstrual hygiene. 

Lack of knowledge 

Ignorance about menstrual hygiene is rampant. Almost 80 per cent rural women use cloth or old rags, while 10 per cent of them don’t even know about sanitary napkins. In fact, only 12 cent of menstruating women use sanitary napkins in India. Hence, the initial hurdle has been making the women aware about the existence of these pads and how these are a better and hygienic alternative to old cloths. Meenakshi Gupta, founder member of Goonj, an organisation that produces low-cost sanitary pads, says women have been using cloth as it is a no-cost, easily available option, “However, our endeavour is to provide these rural women with a product that is safe, viable and doesn’t put any financial burden on them.” 

In rural India, women still use old sarees or towels to manage the menstrual blood flow. This is an unhygienic practice which can lead to infections of the urinary tract and the reproductive system. This is why it is important to make the women aware of sanitary hygiene. 

Clean and healthy options 

This brings us to the next problem — not all companies making sanitary pads have managed to cover the rural sector and provide low–cost disposable pads. Zeroing on this as a major obstacle in the path of menstrual hygiene, Arunachalam Muruganantham, known as the ‘Menstrual Man’ in India, has created a machine that produces high-quality sanitary napkin at a low cost. “Can you call India a progressive nation? It can’t be because women in this country do not show up at work if they have periods. Is this women empowerment?” asks Muruganantham, a social activist-cum-entrepreneur from Coimbatore. He holds responsible the MNCs for the mess. “The high-priced sanitary pads are part of the problem.”

At Muruganantham’s Jayaashree Industries, the home-grown machine, powered by electricity and foot pedals, can make 1,000 napkins a day for as little as Rs 16 for a pack of eight. Instead of selling these pads commercially, Muruganantham helps rural women buy one of the machines at a low cost through government loans or self-help groups, thus empowering them in the real sense.

This small step has brought a big change in bettering the menstrual hygiene of rural women. Joining Muruganantham in this drive are many NGOs, which not only produce safe and biodegradable sanitary pads but also distribute these in rural and urban areas. Kathy started Ecofemme in 2011 in Tamil Nadu. Her organisation makes washable cloth pads, made of biodegradable cotton material and reusable for a long time. “Our cloth pad is equal to 60 disposable pads,” she says, adding “even sanitary pads can lead to infections of the urinary tract.” 

Saathi, yet another NGO, is engaged in making affordable sanitary pads from waste banana tree fibre. Many other NGOs and philanthropists are joining in this drive of making women aware of the menstrual hygiene and providing them with low-cost eco-friendly pads. 

Breaking stereotypes 

In the urban sector where sanitary products are not a budgetary issue, it is the taboo part which causes problems. There is whole list of misconceptions related to periods. Old practises like not touching pickle during period days and many such other customs, are being questioned now. 

In an attempt to challenge the notion of menstruation as a social stigma, Instagram poet and rebel Rupi Kaur posted a picture of her wearing a track pants with blood stains. The photo went viral on Instagram. Rupi is one among many women who are raising their voice against treating menstruation as a stigma. Many hashtag campaigns like #Homeless periods, #HappyToBleed, #ThePadEffect, #PeriodForChange are creating awareness and are bringing about an attitude change towards menstruation. One the producers of Phullu, Anmol Kapoor, says “These centuries-old traditions have created many superstitions that are ingrained in mindsets of the women which lower their self-esteem and make them afraid to seek new information. This topic has come to forefront because today’s youth has access to social media and internet. They have realised that these rituals are harmful to women. Movies like Phullu and Padman have further strengthened and brought this cause to the mainstream.” 

As Muruganantham said growth of a country is directly proportional to the growth of its women, and this is possible if they are allowed to break free of taboos and customs that are holding them back.

It’s not bad bloodA bright Spot: Rupi Kaur's period stain photo on Instagram was deleted twice by the social media site because it didn't "follow [their] community guidelines." When her post was shared thousands of times, Instagram eventually reinstated the photo and apologised
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