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By Anuradha Acharjee, Edited By Maham Abbasi, TIO: Periods or Menstruation is a biological concept which is quite natural, and the very basis on which the human race has been flourishing. How is it perceived in India? Often our family reminds us to not touch any gods, go to the temple, pray or fast during Ramadaan, when we are on our period, telling us of how we are “impure” when we are menstruating. I understand it is some old blood that flows out during those days, but does that make us impure? Why do we then have the Kamakhya temple designated to the uterus of Goddess Sati, and people are worshipping the bleeding goddess but would not allow mortal menstruating women to enter the temple?
I have always refused to believe this obnoxious concept. Why you may ask? Simply because if nature gave me something to live with for most of my life, it would not reject me for the same. Neither will this universe, nor any god. They know what it is all about more than the men in India. These “rules” were created in the Manusmriti by the upper caste Hindu men, who capitalized women’s labor in the kitchen and the bed, and the lower caste for the other societal services. Hinduism or Islam has never preached women to be impure or undeserving in those times. The problem is that we believe in these socially constructed concepts, without using our education or brains to understand this basic notion as something that is a part of nature.
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As a feminist, I have always strived towards strengthening the confidence of South Asian women in themselves, rather than seeking validation or believing in what men think of them amongst other things. What becomes extremely problematic in this situation is beyond us being allowed in places of worship, it is our menstrual hygiene and security.
Period poverty is often described as a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. India is one of the biggest manufacturing hubs in the world, we have probably everything that is being made in India. Why do we not have people investing or creating a business out of the need for affordable sanitary pads for women all over India? Sanitary pads cost up to a minimum of ₹300- ₹ 400 for a month for one female, roughly 5 to 6 US dollars. However, millions of women who live in the villages or are wives to daily wage laborers cannot afford to spend that kind of money on themselves and use cloth, and sometimes even reuse it because of poverty. This is extremely dangerous for their menstrual hygiene and their reproductive organs. We as an economy have maintained a lower price scale for the products sold in India to make it reachable to everyone, then why are they exclusive of sanitary pads? Is it not a basic need? Is it not something that should be normalized and sold to every woman?
Let me explain why. Our society does not acknowledge the essence of a woman, that she is a human being, different than a man, with different biological and psychological functioning. Were we not told to always hush about our period, never tell anyone, especially boys? To buy the sanitary pads in secrecy in black plastic bags? Also, 71% of girls in India remain unaware of ‘what is period’ before they experience it. Sex Education comes much later. This idea of the exclusion of menstrual education creates a sense of ignorance and leads to the instances of bullying around ‘period shame’ among young boys and girls.
We have been taught to be embarrassed about menstruation, hide and hush about it as though it is a criminal act, instead of our social understanding and explaining it as a natural concept to everyone from every gender. Our society is conveniently oblivious of the needs and wants of the female mind and body, how it functions, or to even respect it. How else do you explain the thousands of women genitally mutilated, or raped regularly? How else do we understand the future of every woman to be analyzed in terms of getting married and having a man in her life, how many women are not allowed to follow their dreams, or not even allowed to dream? How else do we explain a mother sacrificing on the food or milk of their daughter over their son when they have less money or there are guests at home? How else do we explain a father who only measures his daughter’s worth in her physical beauty and her having a husband? How else do we explain our government taking steps back from the path of progressiveness to make public transport in New Delhi free for women? Because it is more of an effort for us to get out of our houses as women do not normally do that in the minds of Indian men? These are the same women who have fought for their education, and they go to their workplaces with pride in public transport. They have empowered themselves enough to be able to pay for a bus or train fare. We do not need this.
What we need is affordable sanitary pads for every woman in the country, from the big cities to the small villages. Many small scale units have distributed locally made sanitary pads to rural women, but they are not enough for the whole country. For low-income families, the price of different sanitary pads makes them inaccessible frequently, because of the towering cost of sanitation facilities.
In India, 70 percent of all reproductive diseases are caused by different kinds of pitiable menstrual hygiene situations. Researchers estimate that only 36 percent of girls use sanitary pads during periods in India.
There is a need to launch local supplies to serve the nation as well as to educate the nation about menstrual hygiene and period poverty. Everyone deserves a safe and happy period. Everyone deserves to understand their body and have the space to do it. Nobody should be detested because they are on their period, or called impure. Sanitary pads are a basic necessity, not something you can’t just sit and ignore because it does not happen to you. There is an extreme need to acknowledge women for who they are, understand how each woman is different, and in whatever she chooses to be, she deserves to be safe.
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Thousands of women fight cervical cancer every year, so much so that India took out a vaccine for it ten years ago but would not ensure a safe period for their women. We are manufacturing and exporting things all over the world, but before that, we need to start manufacturing our sanitary pads for our women so that they are affordable and without an import fee. It took me a very long time to understand my privilege attached to being able to afford supplies for my period, which made me realize it should not be a privilege.
Every woman deserves to understand menstrual hygiene and have access to sanitary pads. It has taken us a long time to get here, to sit and talk about periods freely, or tell someone that “I am on my period”, to write about it, or buy our monthly essentials without being embarrassed about it, something so natural to us, accepted by nature, yet made so weird by our society.
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Anuradha Acharjee is a Mexico based Indian scholar. She is an avid researcher for minority lives in Latin America and India, women’s rights and feminism in South Asia. Her other interest areas include cultural studies, postcolonial literature, and popular culture.
Compiled By Alizah Rizvi, Curated By Maham Abbasi.