May 28th is observed as ‘Menstrual Hygiene Day’. The date itself is significant because the average menstrual cycle lasts for 28 days. Although most days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day find themselves on the calendar, MHD remains obscure because the topic is still considered taboo. Menstruation itself is barely talked about so celebrating it becomes a challenge.
Jyothi, Bharathi, and Violet work with Sukhibhava, an NGO that aims to spread awareness about menstruation. In this special episode, they talk about their agenda for MHD 2019. They intend to talk about the subject on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the purpose being that young women understand what their bodies are going through and young men are able to support and encourage them to maintain safe hygiene. “The problem arises because we barely even talk about menstruation openly even in our families. Mothers don’t talk to their daughters even in rich urban cities.”
There is also a celebration planned in a village called Bannapura near Chandapura. Dance, music and various other programs are scheduled for the day. Dilip Kumar Pattubala, the co-founder of the movement, used to work in slum areas and had noticed pieces of cloth with blood stains on them being hung out to dry on the rooftops. Women of the slums preferred using cloth instead of paying a steep price for sanitary pads. The problem also was not knowing what to use, how long it should be used, what type of cloth is advised, and so on, so this lack of information would lead to the spread of various infections. Sukhibhava aims to inform and educate young women about menstruation, the superstitions that surround it, and the need to be well-fed and eat healthy during this time.
Most families teach women not to drink milk or eat eggs during menstruation to prevent any foul smells. This is sadly still practiced in many well-off families in Bangalore as well. Jyothi recalls how a young girl who was never informed about menstruation by her mother was alarmed at having her periods. When her mother had returned to find her clothes stained, she began to hit the girl, who felt scared and frustrated and ended up drinking pesticide.
The topic of periods is usually avoided and never addressed in public in India. The team tackles this problem by initially talking about less taboo topics like work or family and then slowly transitioning to the subject of menstrual hygiene. The members first understand how much the people know about hygiene, what they eat, what products they use, etc. The team then proceeds to understand their problems and figure out solutions for them. Most individuals are unaware of how long they should use a pad. Young women in the village still use period cloth but be it cloth or pad, both need to be changed every four hours to prevent infections. Some women use things that they find in their surroundings, like sponges or rags as period cloth, and this only leads to more infections.
A lot of workers use cement sponges, fine sand or even sawdust in emergencies to stop the bleeding. Violet recalls how during a session at NIMHANS, a lady spoke about a family member who worked in a garment factory. This person was menstruating and used a piece of waste cloth she found; this cloth had an insect on it which bit her and led to more bleeding. When they consulted a doctor, she was told that she will have complications in the future while having children.
Another individual spoke about a family composed of a woman, her sister, her husband, and two kids. When she had severe bleeding, she refused to tell anyone about it. She didn’t go to a doctor either as she was afraid of being checked; it kept worsening and gradually, she started experiencing severe weight loss and intense fatigue. When she was eventually taken to a doctor she was diagnosed with cancer. Had treatment been sought right at the start, she would have survived. The death happened because of shame and fear.
We all need to realise that menstruation isn’t a matter of shame but is completely natural. The taboo around periods needs to die, which is why celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day is important.
Listen in for more!