Let's start talking about Menstrual Health!
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
"Tell 'em menstrual health is one and the same and as equally important as mental health, physical health, cognitive Health"
Location- Hyderabad, India
Change doesn't come about by giving away sanitary napkins or tampons across rural India once in a blue moon while women's gossamer body blooms to bleed the blood of life on each moon through menstruation. Change comes by educating the females on the do's and do-not's of hygienic period practices with great thoroughness and painstaking perseverance.
The term menstruation refers to the periodic shedding of the uterine lining. Many women call the days that they notice vaginal bleeding their "period," "menstrual" or cycle. Being born to a south Indian community with access to progressive education, proneness to contemporary easy-breezy-on-the-go lifestyle, and access to all things today, I could rather stratify my upbringing as "congenial", yet, it takes me by surprise how the modern society encompassing me never engaged in speaking menstrual health and period hygiene. It baffles me how the biology teacher in the school showed blithe regard to elucidate on ovarian fossa. It flummoxes me how neither my mother nor the other women in the friends and family, despite experiencing the process of menstruation, never delineated to me what it is, rather preferred to stay apathetic.
At 15, I first bled (ascribing to the fact that my body prepared its readiness for a potential pregnancy (whether or not I'm willing)) with no iota of knowledge of what's happening internally in my body and why my uterus is bleeding heavy red-blood. I was given a sanitary pad that seemed to appear quite identical to like its shown in television ads(sadly, its only when I have had to use the sanitary pad for myself I realized the true concept and essential context of the sanitary television ad). I have been seized alone in big room with closed windows for about 21 days with no absolute sight of my father (a conventional practice that's been carried along as a family custom where the girls when they first enter into menstruations shouldn't come in sight or in contact with men, be it father or a brother or a friend).
I am told to maintain vaginal hygiene but how ?-nobody explained! may be cause I was not mature enough to have asked the same. I am told to take hair wash every time my menstrual cycle began, that on first-day, third-day and fifth-day, who cares if the hair-washing on periods enervated me to the point of collapse.
I am forbidden from participating in religious activities in the house, I am told not to pray and enter holy places, am told arguably everything but what's significant!
I, being the winsome young girl, rather perfunctorily and blindly exercised the do's that my mother suggested to come through the 5 days of menstrual cycle episode.
Plausibly, considering the aphorism - children learn from their mothers, there is a higher possibility to construe that my mothers suggestions were coming from my grandmothers or may be great grandmothers times, which is to say the anachronistic practices of managing menstrual cycle.
These anachronistic practices pervasively compose most of Indian women menstrual life and easy to implement antithetical to the period poverty the marginalized women in India endure. Genes and DNA I inherited ensured every monthly menstrual cycle from age 15 till date was never a suffering. I had smooth periods with minimal bleeding, no cramps, no period pains, no tugging in the pelvic area, no mental instability or fatigue. I believe that this ease might have decanted the ease with which my mother believed in the conventional practices.
Yet, I am acutely aware of the fact that hundreds and hundreds of thousands women around me are suffering with Dysmenorrhea (painful periods), Period irregularity, Ovarian diseases (PCOS/PCOD), Hormonal distress, Reproductive disorders such as adenomyosis, endometriosis or fibroids and dermatitis, urinary tract infections (UTIs), genital tract infection, alteration in the pH balance of vaginal secretions, bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer. So many of these are caused due to mismanaged menstrual hygiene and lack of awareness on menstrual cycle as a whole. It breaks my heart when am reminded of how women of rural India has to suffer period poverty.
According to the NDTV article, 355million, about 30% of the population constitutes menstruators and 23million girls opt out of schools every year when they start menstruation. While most common menstrual products used in India are Sanitary Pads and Cloths, around 6% of women of rural India do not have affordable access to any kind of period product that including a piece of cloth. And with Covid pandemic apocalypse, migrant workers suffered the bad and resorted to archaic period practices. with the imposed lockdown in the country and disrupted supply-chain, sylvan Indian women suffered the plight of dearth of menstrual products.
While the factors spawning to the menstrual diseases are many, menstrual STIGMA and period TABOO tops the list followed by
1.Resorting to unclean piece of cloth as substitute to menstrual products
2. Usage of contaminated water
3. Lack of facilitation of sanitized toilets and washrooms in homes and schools and colleges
4. Pricey sanitary napkins / tampons that is making it exigent for indigent lives to afford sanitary.
Investment on very fundamental menstrual needs such as free sanitary, bio-degradable hygienic pad-disposal bins should be amended by the governments. To conclude, above all, its imperative to talk on menstrual health to engage and educate the girls, teens, adolescents and women across the country and the world in general to break the myths, misapprehensions and fallacy around period cycle. Women should embrace their unique biological life-giving process and not shy away from demanding the reproductive rights.
Schooling the remote India on the health benefits that come with adoption and usage of modern menstrual products may substantially help mitigate the ever augmenting period illness, but breaking blemish around menstruations by collectively acknowledging and embracing the period cycle to normalize menstruation is very much the need of the hour.
Remember "the business of women's health - and concerningly menstruation - is big".
Written by Srivaishnavi Rao
Pronouns: She /Her