Generation gaps, class, caste, and religion all meddle with open conversations on menstrual health, thus impacting menstrual hygiene. Read on to find out how.
Universities and schools should ideally provide spaces for the evolution of conditioning, and understanding menstruation as it is – a biological process that does not need to be glorified, or demeaned. Saman Waheed, a first-year student of English at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR), gives credit to her school back in Lucknow for sensitising her to the natural nature of menstruation, acknowledging that about half a decade ago, she herself considered it to be a taboo not for public discussions. However, the lack of pad dispensers in the LSR campus and the absolute absence of those from the hostel bothers her. A student from Lakshmibai College stated that the college did not have pad dispensers until very recent times of her being in the college, and has unhinged doors that make students uncomfortable. Upasana Sasidharan, a PhD scholar at Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, says, “There are absolutely no dispensers on campus. I’m just glad we have dustbins in washrooms, honestly.” All this indicates the callousness of practically recognising menstrual health significant enough, even in all-women colleges.
Another thread of period-related conversations is social class access. An incident in Zamrudpur Development Programme , an NGO visited by DU students as well, related a girl who didn’t come for class once, and the reason cited for her absence by an acquaintance of hers was that the girl had her hafta (week) – commonly used to refer to periods- going on. Rupi Kaur may be able to capitalise her writing based on her Instagram picture of spotted pants, but religious and cultural beliefs even in ostensibly progressive families create a sense of seclusion for menstruating women. My own well-read family with class privilege doesn’t feel comfortable with me touching sacred items (sweet offerings, garlands, etc.) when I menstruate.
Isha Yadav, a feminist research scholar and a professor from Delhi, started a WhatsApp group named Periodlogue in 2017 because she was told to “rant off her PMS-ing elsewhere” by her friend. The group started as a safe space for ‘period talk’ that wouldn’t be dismissed as hormonal rant, and currently includes over 75 women from different professions, ages, and backgrounds, who express themselves when in menstrual pain, seek answers on female reproductive health, and do not believe in hiding menstruation in blue pads. The group empowers its members, but the need for alternative spaces to hold non-judgmental discourses points to the fact that the mainstream spaces have not been kind or inclusive enough for women even in the twenty-first century.
Writing this article about conversations on menstruation and sanitation is a form of privilege in itself. Whether it is educating someone else, or becoming more aware of the realities, there is no denying of the social conditioning that all of us have undergone at least in some sphere of our lives, which treats menstruation as a dirty taboo. To be able to break through that is commendable, but must be acknowledged as a possibility that is not open to many others.
Image Credits: Newsweek