KOCHI: After puberty hit, and for a long time thereafter, all discussions on menstrual hygiene, both at home and school (I went to a co-ed), revolved around ‘things’ – wear dark panties, wash your hair every day, keep the ‘secret’ from the boys or the men, change napkins frequently, wrap used-napkins in newspaper and get rid of them immediately.
So I, like many girls of my generation grew up believing that hygiene extended to society; as in, pretending all was well when I was having mind-numbing cramps. A chance meeting with manual scavengers threw a startling perspective at me. “Every time a drain pipe is clogged I end up removing tens of sanitary napkins”, said one manual scavenger. Said a woman rag-picker, “I have to touch the very same pads you are eager to get rid off “
I delved into the facts then. Touching used-napkins with bare hands is a health risk. Millions of menstruating women in India, who use disposable sanitary napkins, are generating mountains of sanitary waste that would stay un-decomposed for hundreds of years. Napkins are trashed, flushed, or burnt owing to the lack of safe disposal methods, but they are all unjust means of getting rid of the napkins – unjust and unfair because someone else is handling my bodily waste.
The idea of me having to pick up someone else’s napkin revolted me, and the image of my napkin lying open in a garbage dump, bloodied and exposed to natural elements gagged me.
I was ready to take control of my body and of my waste and the search for a healthy sustainable menstrual aid ended when I discovered the cup. Oh, the menstrual cup! There are a dozen reasons to change to the cup, but for me that it was non-toxic and reusable were most important. The menstrual cup has changed my life for the better, occupies a pedestal in my closet and I have become quite the advocate for it.
The cup is not difficult to use, and using it will not break one’s insides. If it’s inserted right, then it’s leak-free. It sounds invasive but you won’t feel a thing once it’s inside.
Even if you are averse to seeing blood, you’ll be moved every time you see the little cup filled with your blood, but this helps you measure how much you’re bleeding and when. If you are experimenting with the cup and need to remove it the first time around, I recommend having either an unfazed partner or very fast Internet connection by your side. Otherwise, remember this.
The magic word is ‘pinch’. Just pulling out the cup does not work. Pinch and pull out to do the trick. Yes, the cup can give you yeast infection, but so will anything if you leave it inside you for 24 hours. So be sensible.
Investing in a cup today means saving on hundreds of napkins for years to come — your wallet will thank you later!
The World Menstrual Hygiene Day is yet another day for companies to sell their products and seize control of women’s bodies. But it’s also the day in the year when people are going to listen to what you have to say about menstrual health and hygiene. So use the opportunity.
Tell the government to follow South Africa’s lead and give out free menstrual cups. Talk about your period. Talk about blood. Talk about bodies.
Talk about rights. And access to water, and getting girls back in school. Tell boys and later men, and all fathers and uncles and teachers to not shy away from a ‘womens’ issue’. Discuss waste, and garbage. Tear apart superstitions and stigma. Start the change. Post pictures on twitter, run marathons without tampons and bleed to glory!
(Archanaa Seker is a Chennai-based rights activist, idealist and dreamer, who is concerned about the world in general)
What is the cup?
Menstrual cup is a female hygiene product that is usually bell shaped and is flexible. During menstruation, it is kept inside vagina to contain the menstrual fluid. The cup is made of rubber (latex), silicone or thermoplastic elastomer. About every 4-12 hours (depending on the flow), the menstrual cup needs to be removed and washed.