Conducting the menstrual hygiene session in one of the villages in Utnoor, Telangana and distributing sanitary napkins to the beneficiaries
I come from a small town middle class family where we do not talk about a few things openly. There is this awkwardness amongst everyone when it comes to topic like ‘Periods’. This completely natural process and a gift to the human race is considered to be a taboo. Everyone knows about it but nobody talks about it. I clearly remember my first time, my first periods. I already knew about it and hence, skipped the pep talk from my mother and elder sister. I was embarrassed and felt awkward to talk about it with my mother even when I had questions. I would reluctantly approach my friends to talk somewhere in a corner where nobody could listen to us. But why? Who told us that we are not supposed to talk about it?
Why did nobody talk about periods freely? Well, I guess it started when the teacher asked all the boys to step out of the class while spreading Menstrual Hygiene awareness in the school, or may be when my mother closed the door and pulled out the sanitary napkins from a secret closet. Oh! Or may be when the shopkeeper wrapped up the napkins in a newspaper and then packed them in a black plastic bag before giving it to me.
28th May is celebrated as World Menstrual Hygiene Day. On this day, we conducted the awareness training programme in Utnoor, Adilabad. We all know how neglected this topic has been, specially in rural areas. It is something people do not talk about or care much. They often don’t know the importance of menstrual hygiene and it is not surprising that they still follow some traditions and believe in certain myths. We all grew up hearing things like, “Do not touch pickles during periods, it will go bad” or “Do not water plants, they will die” or “Do not enter the kitchen or prepare food as it will be spoiled”. These are some common myths that people believe even in urban areas but what I saw in Utnoor was something upsetting.
They follow a tradition where women have to stay out of the house while they are menstruating. They are supposed to cook their own food and have a different set of clothes as well as utensils to use during this time. The small hut where they live is compact and not even built properly. Some of these huts are constructed out of the village where a woman stays alone. Instead of sanitary napkins, they use a cloth and continue to use the same one for years. During the surveys we found that some women do not change the cloth for 24 hours. Can you imagine how dangerous it could be? For them, it is an old practice, something they have been following since forever which makes it all the more important to make them understand the significance of hygiene.
The sad part is that according to them, it is bad blood and should be treated in this way. When we asked women as to what do they feel about living outside the house, they said that it is their tradition which has been followed by the ancestors and they will follow it too without changing as they are used to it. I know that we cannot ask them to stop following it because that won’t help. Rather, we decided to focus on the hygiene part and I am glad that we went to more than 30 villages to conduct awareness meetings, make them understand menstrual hygiene and distribute sanitary napkins.
But the question is if they’re going to follow what we said or will remember anything we talked about. It is easy to say that these are some hygienic measures one should follow but to make sure that it is really happening or not is the difficult part.
I really hope that they understand. There are many reasons that affect the usage of sanitary napkins in villages, such as affordability and accessibility. Sometimes, a woman has no other option but to use the cloth because sanitary pads are costly or not even available. This is where we can intervene and bring change.
I remember the story of a woman who was having problems like getting her periods twice in a month, for 10 days each which means she had to stay outside the house for 20 days, cook for herself and take care of herself alone. There were more cases like this where women have to stay out for more than half a month in these huts irrespective of the weather or their health. This were stories of deaths due to infection or loss of blood all because nobody takes it seriously. The women themselves are not able to open up about the problems they are facing. We are not much different from them. May be, we do not follow the ancestral traditions but we believe in certain myths. It is high time that we come out of the shell and break those. Why are we ashamed of something that is given naturally to us, as women. I hope to see a future where no girl will be ashamed because she bleeds as she bleeds for good.