Period Taboo: ‘Women in Kolkata Refused Pads Not Wrapped in Paper’

After knowing the problems my house help faced with buying pads, I decided to visit the slums to help.

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My Report
4 min read

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: Aastha Gulati

Even in 2020, people tip-toe around conversations about women’s periods, let alone discuss how to tackle the taboo attached to it. After knowing the problems my domestic help faced with a simple exercise such as buying pads, I decided to do something about it and started my own menstrual hygiene campaign in Kolkata in May.

Over a call during the lockdown, my help told me that they were having a lot of financial issues and that she was not able to buy pads at the moment for her daughter and herself. It was most important to prioritise buying food in the lockdown.

This call made me realise the difficulty in choices that the needy people have been making during this pandemic.

I decided to check for myself the situation in the local slums to see whether the problem persisted around me too. This exercise taught me that the problem is not only limited to rural areas, as one would assume, but also exists in urban, metropolitan spaces.

After having conversed with two-three ladies in a local slum, I was taken aback to know that they had switched back to cloth rags and strips.

Women didn’t have enough education and resources to prioritise menstrual hygiene and this is where I decided to eliminate this issue with my limited human powers.

This is when I started distributing pads in my locality. At first, I distributed around a 100 after procuring them from a local pharmacy. Eventually, I decided to raise funds for this purpose. I was joyous to find that 85 percent of my donors were male members who helped me raise about Rs 45,000 in just 5 days.

Women had switched back to cloth rags and strips.
Women had switched back to cloth rags and strips.
(Photo Courtesy: Aqsa Mushtaque)

The next big challenge was the utilisation of the funds and distributing the pads which I had to plan and execute with just one other friend.

Door-to-Door Campaign Across 10 Slums

We started distributing 5,000 packs of sanitary napkins which reached around 3,000 women in 10 slums around Kolkata area. During the donation drive, I experience a lot of ups and downs. The biggest positive was the response that I received from these women.

Not only were they astonished to see that someone had cared to distribute sanitary pads during the pandemic, but also relieved that they had one less problem to care about during these tough times.

Women felt extremely shy to receive sanitary packs publicly.
Women felt extremely shy to receive sanitary packs publicly.
(Photo Courtesy: Aqsa Mushtaque)

The negative experiences later turned out to be lessons. Women felt extremely shy to receive sanitary packs publicly and many blatantly refused to use them. I had to wrap them in a newspaper to give it to them.

I was harassed by male members of some families who asked me to leave the area.

This sheds light on the taboo that still persists about menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

Periods Don't Stop in Pandemic

Having done this for over four months now, I feel that everybody needs to comprehend that sterile napkins are a need and not a luxury. My goal is to educate people and prioritise the use of sanitary napkins.

It is not difficult for anyone to spread menstrual awareness. Many women are dying because of the lack of education, interest, or amenities regarding menstrual health. I would like to become a champion of taking this mission forward and make women talk about their menstrual problems openly. Menstruation is a natural process and we should not shy away from it.

The locals would not take pads unless they were wrapped in a newspaper.
The locals would not take pads unless they were wrapped in a newspaper.
(Photo Courtesy: Aqsa Mushtaque)

When there's stigma attached to periods, there's also stigma attached to everything related to it, especially sanitary pads.

The locals would not take them unless they were wrapped in a newspaper, nor would they take it from men, which is why I had to hand it to them myself.

All we can do, and should do, is talk about menstruation and menstrual hygiene to eliminate the taboo that persists everywhere in our country, be it rural or metropolitan areas.

(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)

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