The conversation surrounding menstruation has largely been women-centric, is it time to go beyond the binary and include trans men, and queer folks? 

‘Bleeding makes me feel empowered’ is one of my go-to statements while I am menstruating. Most of the cis-gendered womxn I have encountered are surrounded by differing experiences, from squirming ovaries to period sex. Come womxn’s day, menstrual hygiene management, sanitary products, cramps, advertisements, literature, most of them cease to acknowledge that, not all womxn menstruate and not all people who menstruate are womxn.

Always, a menstrual product company owned by Procter and Gamble removed the ‘Venus’ symbol from their products, thus, dissociating their product packaging with womxn, making it more inclusive. Cis-womxn felt rather excluded believing that they are being erased from the conversations. They have criticised the inclusion of non-binary, trans men, and individuals of other genders and considered it disrespectful. What is feminism if not intersectional? 

A chance encounter with Vihaan Peethambar, Queer Feminist and Trans Activist at a Summit in Delhi last year threw light on the idea of trans men aka, those individuals who were assigned female at birth, implying that they menstruate well into their transition. We as a society tend to draw the line of womanhood at menstruation. We equate menstruation with feminity.

Gender does not have anything to do with one’s biological anatomy. Vihaan talks of the sheer disparity of bringing the non-binary and queer folks into the conversation surrounding menstruation. Anyone with a functioning uterus, ovaries, and hormonal system will menstruate until menopause. Umaima, a cis-gendered woman says, “The problematic aspect of the approach towards a subject which itself is a taboo is when womxn talk of mensuration in the specificity of it being about them and their oppression which is the partial truth. It sort of puts them in a superior light of oppression than those who disassociate from binary therefore furthering a difference of gender which shouldn’t exist in the first place.”

A gynaecologist in conversation with sheknows says, “If you have a uterus and aren’t pregnant/breastfeeding, menopausal, hormonally suppressing your periods, or dealing with a condition like PCOS, then you’re likely menstruating.” It is essential to disregard gender as a societal construct and focus on the functioning of the uterus. Sex-education is highly heteronormative and tends to chunk out a large community altogether. Transmen find menstruation a reminder of their ‘feminity’, a part of them that they would want to shed. It is a blaring alarm pointing towards their gender dysphoria. Streamlining the conversation towards cis-womxn and limiting it to womanhood, empowerment, and unleashing one’s power of reproduction eliminates and ostracises conversations, social action, public health, and legislative measures of an entire community.

The feminist movement has failed if its sense of feminism limits itself to cis-gendered womxn. It goes beyond the binary, intersectionality is the future of feminist discourse, it is time that the narrative incorporates womxn.

Feature Image Credits: helloclue

Anandi Sen

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A retrospective review of the Oscar-winning documentary short on India and menstruation.

I don’t watch many documentaries on Netflix. I believe many other millennials also don’t. However, I still watched Period: End of Sentence for the most millennial reason ever: “hype”.

The film was hyped as it won an Oscar for best short documentary and was based in India. These were enough excuses for me to spend 30 minutes watching this Rayka Zehtabchi directed short feature.

To put it simply, the movie travels across a few North Indian villages and decodes the taboos and stigmatic attitude associated with menstruation prevalent there. There are those typical foreigner-directed Indian film shots like open fields and smiling villagers.

The film shows the sad reality and at the same time, gives optimism with certain figures who are trying to create awareness for menstrual hygiene, workers who are making organic pads in factories and an interview with Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of low-cost sanitary pads (the inspiration behind Akshay Kumar’s Pad Man).

While the fictional Pad Man was preachy and stretched, this movie gets the message straight in its short duration. It shows that the first step towards menstrual hygiene is changing attitudes, simple as that.

The interview snippets feature prude men and women, scared school girls, and unaware boys,  talking about periods with a lot of hesitation. In one of the scenes, a teenager is asked if he knows what periods are, he smiles and asks “School wala period?“. Similarly, another girl answers this by saying that it’s a sickness. Such scenes don’t show any triggering material but the attitudes itself make you feel sad about the reality.

When it released on Netflix, I heard many complain about the director’s approach as she covered only certain areas instead of the whole country. I too wished I could see more being explored about this subject but then, I feel even if she covered one village in half an hour, it’s impactful enough.

If she would have brought out many narratives at once in a short format documentary, it might have ended up looking rushed. Instead, Rayka gives us one example and opens our eyes to see how these villages are a mixed bag of orthodox practitioners as well as unorthodox trailblazers. We have a long way to go but there’s still some hope.

Zayka didn’t feature the extremities of menstrual taboos in rural India with women being killed or denied entry in temples for bleeding. Maybe she chose to ignore it or maybe she didn’t know if this at all. In this regard, yes Period still feels like a more Utopian version of the darker truth.

The Oscar win would again help the First World be more aware of such ground realities in India. I hope Zayka or another filmmaker makes a film on urban attitudes around menstruation (as the so-called English speaking elite also is no less with period stigmas) and other trends.

Period: End of Sentence, isn’t the end of all menstrual discrimination but is definitely a great step forward.

Featured Image Credits- Netflix

Shaurya Singh Thapa
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Poor menstrual hygiene caused by lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, and poor sanitation infrastructure makes menstrual health a painful experience for women. 

A world which struggles in basic hygiene and sanitation facilities for women during their periods makes the simple biological phenomenon of menstruation complicated. The nexus of stigma, silence, shame and the notions of impurity associated with it makes the world a difficult place to live in.

However, looking the world through the eyes of a woman makes the whole world different than the what it exists as today, and becomes a place where you need not “WHISPER” your menstrual experiences to “STAY FREE” from stigma.

Rajkumari a resident of K-block in Jahangirpuri, Delhi narrated her experience of menstruation, “I have never used sanitary pads in my life. I just use a cloth and bleed the entire day in a room specifically meant for that”.
This is the story of 82% of India’s women who still don’t have the three basic A’s- Accessibility, Availability, Affordability to safe menstrual hygiene and management. And the social stigma associated with menstruation makes any kind of tangible action on these things ineffective as the women themselves don’t feel confident in having healthy and safe periods. Hence, menstruation is a more of a social issue which is being tackled by many stakeholders like NGOs, college students and government agencies coming together for advocacy and awareness.

Especially the onus is on the University of Delhi students to bring about this silent revolution to de-stigmatize menstruation and spread awareness in their local community to promote menstrual hygiene and management. One such initiative was taken by a group of students of Cluster Innovation Centre who worked on a semester-long project on ground level in slums, government schools, children homes and with visually challenged women to promote menstrual hygiene.
A member of the team, Shambhavi Sharma said, “What is needed is a dialogue, the more open you are about the phenomenon the more natural it becomes. So when we went around the JJ colony areas, Sanskar Ashrams, All India Confederation for Blind or the Government school in Roop Nagar as part of our project, our message was clear.

To make them aware of the physiological aspects of menstruation while focusing on one aspect of menstrual hygiene management that is – hygiene promotion and awareness. The reason being that menstrual hygiene related infections are seldom talked about yet prevalent.”

The discussions around menstruation should be normalised including the active participation of the male members to promote menstrual hygiene and management.
Another team member, Kartik Krishnan added, “I believe that men should support women and girls to manage menstruation effectively in the household, community, school, and workplace. A lot of things like not being hesitant or shy in buying a pad for a female friend, family member etc. makes the discussion more gender neutral. Therefore, young boys need to be taught to be more mature towards MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management).”

However, this is not the complete picture of the scenario. While more than 80% of the female population still struggles for basic menstrual hygiene facilities, it is the irony of the situation that the 18% of the privileged female population who have access to safe menstrual hygiene contribute to 80% of the non-biodegradable menstrual waste. Sustainable menstruation methods are essential for the environment and are more economically cheaper than the prolonged use of sanitary napkins contributing to increased plastic generation.
Arundhati Subhedar, a student of Lady Shri Ram College, took up the initiative to spread awareness on sustainable methods for menstruation through her initiative- BLOOD. “I have been trying to promote eco-friendly periods. Sanitary napkins and tampons are a huge hassle for the environment.

Alternatives for these are menstrual cups and cloth pads, both of which are reusable, comparatively cheaper and healthier for a person” said Arundhati.
Educated and well-informed women of India need to make smarter choices keeping these things in mind.

Therefore, the biological phenomenon of menstruation incorporates several social, economic and environmental factors with it. Modern and scientific methods have to be adopted and their accessibility should be ensured as it is the basic right of every woman.
Today, on the menstrual hygiene management day let us take it upon ourselves to spread awareness on safe menstrual hygiene and management in our own community and help every woman to have a HAPPY PERIOD in its true essence.

Feature Image Credits: medium

Sriya Rane
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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

Anushree Joshi

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PCOD is a common disease that afflicts millions of women every year. Read on to find out more about it.

Poly-cystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) is a common disease that, as the name suggests, refers to the enlarging of the ovaries with multiple small cysts on the outer edge. These cysts are just premature eggs that could not be released by the ovary.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ for PCOD. It causes different effects on different bodies.  Having mentioned this, it is also noteworthy that PCOD is the most common cause of female infertility in the world today. In India, there are more than one million cases of PCOD detected every year and the condition is  increasingly on the rise. It can be easily detected with an ultrasound test.

Every human body releases a healthy combination of male and female hormones depending on the sex of the person. However, an excess of androgen or male reproductive hormone secreted by the female bodies is the major cause of PCOD. If the female members of a family suffer with ‘type 2’ diabetes or PCOD, then the female offspring has a fifty percent greater chance of suffering from it.

Generally, if the body is resistant to insulin, it will lead to a high level of insulin left unused in the body which can be another cause of PCOD. It can be a result of genetic factors or overweight or both. Skipping meals or staying physically inactive can become a cause of PCOD as it not only spoils the immune system of the body but also fluctuates the weight of the body that has an effect on the insulin. High levels of mental or physical exertion  are also  major contributors to it.

There is no fixed duration for PCOD. It can last for years or even a lifetime. However, with proper medication, it can be cured within six to seven months as well.

The first major symptom of PCOD is the stopping of or irregularity or excessive flow of blood during menstruation.. Doctors say that if a woman has 8 or less menstrual cycles in a year, she should go for an ultrasound test for PCOD. Since ovulation is affected due to PCOD, women may run the risk of miscarriage or difficulty in conceiving naturally. This however does not imply that PCOD necessarily leads to infertility in all women.

People afflicted with PCOD often go through Hirsutism which refers to an excessive growth of facial and body hair due to increased levels of androgen. These hairs are thicker and darker than the usual hair and are often found on the chin, cheek, belly or breasts. However, they might also face hair fall or thinning of the scalp hair. PCOD is also responsible for causing an increase in the size of the oil producing glands, thus making the skin oily. This leads to a major issue of acne that  is difficult to clear and may leave marks. PCOD may cause anxiety and depression in women not only due to an imbalance of the hormones but also because of the loss of self esteem due to such  symptoms.

There are various kinds of treatment for PCOD. Therefore one can use allopathic, homeopathic and even Ayurvedic treatment for the same. The treatment may involve the consumption of contraceptive pills. Regular exercise may help the sufferers of PCOD manage their weight.  Doing yoga  is will ameliorate the disease with the additional benefit of bringing down the anxiety levels.  A sleeping pattern is important because the body and mind needs enough rest during this time.

A balanced diet goes a long way. However, this means something different for people with PCOD. . To cure oneself of off it,  one would be required to have more fruits and heavy vegetables. Kiwi is one fruit that works the best. Some foods need to be avoided, for example, sweets, rice, dairy products etc. If a person with PCOD smokes, she must try to quit, as smokers tend to have higher levels of androgen.

There are several associations trying to create awareness about PCOD, often using teal as the colour of their campaign. The one at the forefront is PCOS Awareness Association (PCOSAA). There is an urgent need of awareness regarding the same so that women become alert to the rising numbers and understand that they are not alone. They should be encouraged to talk about it freely without any taboo, so that a woman can be cured before it is too late.

Feature Image  Credits : Medical News Today

Khyati Sanger

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Women have been denied access into temples for menstruating for centuries. When their agency is taken away, for performing the most natural of bodily functions, we see the patriarchy seeping into what is seemingly the “holiest” aspect of society. 

I was 14 when I started menstruating. One of the first things that my mother did on that fated day was prepare a list of do’s and don’ts, of how to conduct myself around mortals of the opposite gender, how to choose sanitary napkins wisely, how to sleep without staining the bed-linen, and so on. One point in that list that seemed particularly intriguing was my bereavement of access to temples and kitchens during “those days” of the month.

As I grew up, all my refutations of this rule were repudiated with the claim that a woman is ritually ‘unclean’ during her menstrual period and hence cannot go to the temple or worship at that time. While my grandmother tried to validate this argument by maintaining that women in ancient times worked hard and needed to be given a ‘religious reason’ to rest, Aunt Daisy from across the street vehemently believed that the tradition comes from the Manusmriti, a textual tradition of Hinduism

However, many temples go a step further that my mother’s list. Since it is impossible to know whether a woman is menstruating, certain temples have banned all women aged between 10 and 50. Somewhere between engaging in heated arguments with my grandmother and making sarcastic remarks on how we needed a machine which would be able to detect whether women were on their menstrual period, I grew distant from my culture.

But it is not just one religion whose socialization harbors these abhorrent anathemas. A parallel can be drawn between Hinduism and other religions of the world which endorse similar taboos. As a girl, Noorjehan Niaz had visited the well-known Muslim shrine of Haji Ali. Walking down the coastline in south Mumbai, she would push through the throng to reach the inner chamber of the mosque which housed the grave of the 15th century saint. Here, showering rose petals on the green silk cloth draping it, she would seek blessings of the saint by pressing her head against the grave.

By 2011, as an adult, she was shocked to find the entrance shut. Now, the Ulema allowed women into the mosque’s other areas to pray but the shrine’s trustees had decided that only men were allowed inside the inner chamber and the reason for the ban was to prevent menstruating women from going near the grave.

B.R. Ambedkar was once asked why he was so passionate about the issue of temple entry for Dalits. The statesman had replied, “The issue is not entry, but equality.” It was inconsequential for Ambedkar that he, himself, was indifferent towards religion. In fact, temple entry was hardly the solution for Dalit oppression. What he did accept was the fact that denial of equal access to religious and sacred spaces is one of the most powerful tools by which an unequal society expressed and reinforced its hierarchies. He understood that this form of reinforcement had to be eliminated in its totality. More than 80 years later, on 26 August 2016, the Bombay High Court upheld Ambedkar’s views when it held that that denying women entry to the Haji Ali Dargah violated not only their fundamental right to religious freedom but also their right to equality and non-discrimination.

Disoriented with my culture, I had stopped going to temples in 2016. I had decided that if I am not allowed to enter the holy sanctums when blood and tissues lining my womb break down and shed from my body, I wouldn’t want to enter when the lining is getting made either. But earlier this year, an individual I am romantically inclined to led me into a temple despite knowing I was on the 2nd day of my menstrual period. He dismissed my protestation and assured me that “it was a most natural process”.

He made me realise that people have started questioning taboos entrenched in the Indian psyche. Even institutions such as the Supreme Court has time and again asked how a physiological phenomenon like menstruation can be a guiding factor for denying women of a certain age the right to enter and worship in a temple.

But challenges ahead are many. Despite the progressive stances taken by the apex court, in general, the Indian courts still do not have the judicial courage to take a stand in favor of women.

Therefore, the initiative for change has to be taken at the micro level actively. Forgoing social norms that are redundant and reminding your loved ones to do the same is a healthy way to challenge these deep set norms. 

Feature Image Credits –  Mordi Ibe Foundation

Vaibhavi Sharma Pathak

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Period shaming is a phenomenon that occurs all around the world, aiming to portray the menstrual cycle as something to be hidden and be ashamed of. We often fail to recognize its oppressive nature because of the values that have been instilled in us from the onset of puberty. For example, we must hide our pack of pads at the back of the wardrobe lest our male family members see it. Even chemists cover pads in black polythenes or paper bags, stained bedsheets are hastily thrown away and advertisements for pads imply we bleed a pleasant blue liquid. These practices are, in essence an attempt to deny the existence of periods altogether.

Examples of period shaming include whispered conversations regarding menstruation, using euphemisms such as ‘Aunt Flow’ or ‘time of the month’ to refer to your period, a lack of understanding about complete and personalized menstrual hygiene, and the inherent tendency to hide all things menstruation-related. The taboo around periods hinders healthy discussions about this natural process, and thus may have medical repercussions for those who require special care and assistance with regard to menstruation. Complications can go unreported or even unnoticed by people who lack sufficient knowledge.

For a society that views women mostly as baby-making machines and glorifies motherhood, we do a grossly inadequate job of understanding and teaching the science behind it. Age-old traditions deem women ‘impure’ and restrict their participation in religious activities. Even daily soaps portray menstruating women as unfit for the kitchen. This results in a society where women internalize such oppressive ideas and learn that they are defined by their biological processes. They are robbed of individual agency when others view their bodies as public property to be discussed and policed.

Women and men have recently made news through attempts to break social barriers and destroy the taboo around menstruation. In April 2015, Kiran Gandhi ran a London marathon without any menstrual hygiene products while on her period. She claimed it was to draw attention to the millions of women who cannot access or afford menstrual care. Women in India pinned sanitary pads on trees to end the stigma around periods. A Reddit post by an adult woman detailed how her father had helped her through her first menstrual experience and always kept extra pads and tampons in his car.

While these achievements must be celebrated, we must also recognize the reality of menstruation around the world. Thousands of pubescent girls drop out of school upon getting their period because they lack adequate information and care. Women are banned from partaking in certain activities and touching certain objects while on their period. Without proper hygiene, girls and women are vulnerable, which often leads to them being victims of assault by predatory men. We need to evaluate our educational systems and societal prejudices to ensure our women receive the tools to lead a healthy and free lifestyle.

Feature Image Credits: www.keyword-suggestions.com

Vineeta Rana

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