Growing up, I remember the shame and embarrassment I felt whenever I got my period. Though I now realize that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of, I wish someone had been there to instill this confidence in me when I was younger.
66% of Indian girls do not know anything about menstruation before their first period (source: UNICEF). Imagine the fear of a young girl having to experience this sudden discharge of blood with no idea that it's normal and happens to everyone. This same girl is then told that this is something that she must keep secret and is something that makes her unclean. This kind of attitude and lack of conversation makes a universal biological process a source of embarrassment and mental trauma for young girls across the country.This issue is compounded by the fact that 70% of mothers think periods are dirty. Menstruation-related issues are closely tied to India’s open defecation crisis, as 66% of menstruating people in India manage periods without toilets. (source: WaterAid India) To top it all off, menstrual stigma affects access to education too--over 20% of Indian girls drop out of school upon reaching puberty! (source: UNICEF). Thus awareness about menstruation is conclusively shown to be a problem.
The statistics about access to ‘sanitary’ menstruation management materials are questionable however, with a lot of traditional methods to deal with periods in India being considered unsanitary and unsafe when compared to the prevalent narrative of ‘clean’, sanitary options provided by modern pads, napkins and tampons. Certain traditional methods of dealing with periods are unsanitary and need to be stopped-- this is evident in the fact that in India 14% of the girls report suffering from menstrual infections (source: WaterAid India)-- but this does not necessarily mean that all traditional methods are unsafe. Educating our girls on what is safe and unsafe though requires conversation. It is plainly evident that there are definite health issues surrounding periods in India but they all follow from the basic stigmatization and awareness about the completely normal process of menstruation. Only once we can begin to talk about it openly can we properly tackle the other issues that surround periods.
Those who have a voice -- you, me, and celebrities around the world -- must speak out against these biases. Just like the Swachh Bharat Mission has galvanized conversations about sanitation, a similar revolution is required for affordable, hygienic and accessible sanitary pads across the country. Make your voice heard and spread the word to break the taboo around menstruation!
Contributed by Smt. Poonam Mahajan