Instead, of discussing which animal menstruating women will be reborn as if they cook for their husbands on their cycles, let’s talk about how menstrual hygiene is one of the biggest killers of women around the world. But that doesn’t bother us. That only around 36% of women in India have access to proper menstrual hygiene products doesn’t worry us. That nearly 23 million girls drop out of school due to menstruation-related issues isn’t a cause for concern.
India, I hate to break it to you, but menstrual issues are a monumental problem in our country today, and these problems deserve proper policy solutions, not the surface-level mockery we entertain around them.
A 2016 study titled – ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management Among Adolescent Girls in India’ involving nearly 100,000 girls in India found that almost 50,000 did not know about menstruation until the first time they got their period. Girls were confused, ashamed, terrified thinking they’ve contracted deadly diseases. Some didn’t tell anyone for days due to fear and embarrassment. They simply did not know what was happening. It is also well known that menstrual cycles often come with digestive problems, and young girls, who often have to defecate in the open for lack of proper toilets end up dropping out of schools, training programs for the same reason.
Of course, the infections women have contracted for lack of hygienic products is yet another problem, with women in rural areas using torn old cloth pieces that they would use and re-use, and sometimes even pouches filled with ash. According to a 2015 study, among 486 women in Odisha, urinary infections were twice as prevalent in women using cloth during their cycles. But that’s the issue you know about. The question is - why are we not doing enough?
With the alarming numbers involved with the negative impact that comes with menstruation-related issues - why don’t we consider it a proper health crisis? An issue that affects millions and millions of women in India isn’t given the importance that it should be.
Why is that? Perhaps it has something to do with the disproportionate number of women policymakers in our country? India stood 149th in a 2019 list of 193 countries ranked by the percentage of elected women representatives in their national parliaments. And while female representation is low in the Lok Sabha, representation in state assemblies is even lower. How will women’s issues be considered issues when men are the ones doing the talking?
With the lack of awareness, even more superstitions and stigma are borne, with ridiculous claims gaining ground in mainstream conversations and ideas. Often, menstruation is seen as girls being “of age”, often pushing parents into getting their young girls quickly married off when they start menstruating. With the stigma and shame, we move to the lack of proper solutions put in place - because why will a problem be solved when people are afraid to admit it exists? Do you know what happens then? Girls don’t know when they’re being violated. How else did someone think they had the right to check students like this? But this isn’t the first time.
A similar incident took place three years ago when 70 students, aged 10, were strip-searched by the warden. When asked why she did it, the warden said “I am like their guardian. If I ask them something like this or check them, I have not committed a crime.” You see, that’s the kind of authority we think we have on women’s bodies. But when it comes to actually giving them basic products to live healthy lives, it is not a problem enough. We make Bollywood films tax-free, but sanitary products are considered a luxury.
While we have a problem with menstruating women entering places of worship, while our leaders and intellectuals debate the purity and impurity that comes with a natural bodily phenomenon, thousands of young girls suffer every day, and they crumble in silence with no one listening - because they’re being trained to not ask for it.
It is time we see this as the problem that it is, and not a topic to discuss when one ‘godman’ or the other decides to pass yet another baseless comment. Our girls deserve more than that, period.