I am an adult now. Ever since the onset of my puberty, I have been taught, or I just picked it up, to not talk about certain things. The most important of them being my periods.
My experiences outlined.
I asked my aunt out of sheer curiosity, what her outlook was towards the practice of talking menstruation in low whispers, into the earlobes of other women, giggling under the curtain of awkwardness, giving it names of other sicknesses just to keep it away from men?
She made an apologetic face and replied, “this is what we have been taught and this is what we teach you’. There has been no reasoning with this pattern because people have followed it since ages.
Suddenly I zoomed out of that space back to the time when I menstruated for the first time. The psychological dilemma I went through was tough.The first feeling of getting a period was the feeling of an apology. It did not feel right. I didn’t feel confident. And it was the same for many other girls who grew up with me. I couldn’t understand why I felt so wrong for such a long time, but now I do. In growing years nobody talks about growth and body changes. People always shy away from it, sweeping it under carpets.
The idea that a mother alone has to deliver this notion of periods to a girl in her own confinement makes it more confusing. My mother tried chalking it smoothly for me but her attempts failed. It wasn’t her fault, even she needed proper counselling to deal with the situation. It does require some amount of mental readiness. And the instructions of other women like, ‘Don’t tell your father about it’, ‘It’s time to stop playing sports and games’ are altogether disturbing and depresses oneself to the core.
So the time began when my mother started bringing sanitary napkins in covered newspapers or black polyethene. And I would put it in the lowest drawer beneath a piece of cloth. This is how, by gradual acceptance, passed practices become habits.
In some time I learnt a lot about this culture, which was new to me. I learnt how women would adopt weird ways to keep their menstruation inconspicuous as if it’s a top CBI secret to be kept away from the other half of mankind. The explanations fell beyond my logic. I would see women eating Sehri and faking Roza. I never understood the need to fiddle through this complicated way of lying. If your religion gives you this particular relaxation of not fasting when on menses, then where does the problem lie? I found my feelings conflicted to the events around me.
Let’s talk about Haya and Health.
Menstruation is like any natural phenomena like the sunrise, rain or thunder. ‘Haya’ as I understand it is confinement of one’s sexuality. But the knowledge of one’s menses does not make one sexually inviting, let alone surpass the barriers of Haya. It is a stigma confused to be a private women’s thing, under the umbrella of ‘ Haya’. It comes down to us through cultures that have flourished previously and sticks to us even now, like lichen on a rock. So this confusion needs to be simplified and understood because girls suffer and their lack of courage in talking about the issue aggravates the problem. They lack proper knowledge and counselling to deal with it until matters become critical. So the kind of approach we have towards menstruation needs to be questioned.
So let’s talk more about menstruation and sanitary pads.
Menstrual Health, an alarming concern.
Two days prior to my conversation with Javid Parsa, I was also following Megan Markle’s work on the issue of menstruation. She wrote a column for the Times titled ‘ How Periods affect Potential’. It covered interesting statistics of 14-15 million Indian girls, aged between 12-14 at a risk of dropping out of the school because of the lack of basic amenities like pads, tampons and even bathrooms. They cover themselves in rags, feel ashamed, stigmatized and lamentably, abandon education.
Even Michelle Obama spoke unmetaphorically about it at the World Bank in April 2016. Various NGOs all around the world were trying to come up with new policies to take care of the situation. The problem is that menstrual health is kept totally off the table, be it household discussion or policy making in the government.
In the subcontinent, only 30 % of the population has access to menstrual health products. These are some interesting statistics to make us aware. A few months back there was an initiative Gaash where basic necessities for education were collected for the access of underprivileged students. Think of the women from the same background not getting access to the basic menstrual hygiene products. Most of the time they are dependent upon the male counterparts for money, which here, translates to facilities.
Going back to the reference I don’t think we have an option. We need to break the taboo and start a conversation. This case is just like any other case, where we are victims of the system designed earlier. We need to go beyond this meaningless system which holds imaginary values over the health effects of women.
For any change to happen education is a must. So let’s start from our small circles to the policy making. Let’s make sure we start this dialogue so that women feel comfortable and not ashamed. Where men are sensitive. Where there is counselling for both parents to educate their girls in a proper manner. Where we break the taboo and focus on health and well being of the entire society.
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