Sukriti Bansal (21) from Gurugram was stopped from attending a kirtan at the tender age of 13. “I was mortified,” she says, recounting how her excitement was put to rest when her grandmother whispered her decision to Bansal’s mother an hour before the event started. Similarly, Adarsh Manocha (47), a resident of West Delhi, vividly remembers her first period experience.
“There were times my clothes would be stained but I had no idea what to do. There was no one—not even another female classmate—I could talk about this,” Manocha adds. So many women like Bansal and Manocha grew up either being restricted from entering the kitchen while menstruating or were made to feel embarrassed about this natural process. The limitations imposed on them when they were young and the impact of this stigma has been passed on from generation to generation.
The initial reaction to menstruation for many is fear, shame, or embarrassment precisely because there is hardly any conversation about the topic, especially among the country’s youngsters. “Teachers and principals feel that children will get to know about menstruation by themselves and no intervention is needed from their end,” says Dr Surbhi Singh, a gynaecologist who founded Sachhi Saheli, a Mayur Vihar-based non-profit organisation (NGO) that seeks to impart knowledge on menstrual health, hygiene, and sanitation.
The NGO educates menstruators through a series of initiatives—Menstrual Cafe, Pad Yatra, Period Fest, etc. Similarly, The Red Padding Project (TRPP), launched by Saket-resident Aarushi Gupta in September last year, uses the power of social media to draw attention to several issues—period poverty, representation of menstruation in advertising, period literature, and more—along with listing out ways to use period products such as menstrual cups, period underwears, etc.
A sustainable choice
For the longest time, discussions on menstrual health never found a place in mainstream media such as television and radio. This, therefore, widens the gap when it comes to making people aware about alternatives for menstruators. “Pad companies have created this notion that using a sanitary pad is the only hygiene product available. It is, however, not the case,” adds Singh, adding that “it is important to understand that everyone has a different body and hygiene has nothing to do with the specific product one uses.”
Every menstruator has a different experience. For instance, issues faced by autistic menstruators would not be the same as those by marginalised communities. TRPP thus focuses on these varied experiences while also giving a sustainable lens to these discourses. “I was volunteering with an organisation when I realised menstrual hygiene awareness mostly touches upon distribution of pads, the same product over again. Even though these organisations talk about sustainable menstruation they don’t do anything to implement that,” states Gupta, who has also been working on an initiative to train Afghan and Pakistani Hindu refugees in creating their own cloth pads.
A change in the space, therefore, can only be brought through a conscious mix of both on-ground and virtual activities. While initiatives such as pad distribution drives may help communities for the nonce, education on menstruation shall help them for life.