Kandaswamy S (33) was shocked to see his employer stop at a medical store on his way home, to buy sanitary napkins for his wife. “My wife never even discusses her periods with me. I have seen that she is content with the cloth strips she has been using for eight years,” he said.
Kandaswamy added that his mother had never spoken to him about periods either – something he learnt about only after he got married. Working at the home of a middle-class family, he had learnt a few new concepts in this regard from them.
“Madam has a separate dustbin to dispose of the used napkins. She told me it should not be mixed with the regular waste. Besides, I also learnt that it is not a ‘woman’s problem’ and that it is okay if I talk about it,” he added. Even today, menstrual hygiene and practices continue to be concepts that severely lack awareness.
Despite the government, organisations and individuals putting in efforts to create awareness on the importance of not compromising on hygiene during periods each month, it continues to be a subject rarely discussed in public not just amongst the rural population, but among the urban lot, too.
“Poor disposal of sanitary napkins are seen not only in the slums across the city, but also in areas where the rich and educated stay,” said Govind Murugan, convener of Dhagam Foundation, which runs the Aval project that focuses on creating awareness on menstrual hygiene and practices as one of its main agendas.
“Sanitation workers have, on many occasions, complained of blockages in sewage pipes due to sanitary napkins that have been flushed down the toilets. There is no proper system of disposal of used napkins in both slums and corporate areas. We have been constantly insisting that the government not only focus on installing toilets, but also incinerators within the toilets, where women can dump their sanitary napkins,” Murugan said.
“Besides, many slum women, who cannot afford pads use old, dirty, torn cloth or leaves when they are on their periods. Sustainable menstruation methods are not being followed in the state at all.”
Explaining the importance of bring awareness at the family level, activist Ramya Mohan said, “Many people still do not realise that menstruation or periods is a normal bodily function. We need to remove the ‘impurity’ angle to the discussion of periods and educate men as well to ensure they do not ignore monthly periods as a ‘woman’s issue’.”
Irked at the lack of interest most men show, she added, “From believing that it is not their business because they do not menstruate to shying away if and when the topic is brought up, there is a lack of awareness on how they can help women in their family during this struggle.”
There is a lot of discomfort too during this phase that men in the family need to help them through and ensure that hygienic methods are followed for use and disposal of sanitary products, said Mohan.
In a recent survey conducted by a team at Dhagam Foundation to study the awareness levels among men about periods, it was found that men between the ages 18 and 24 were more aware of periods than those between the ages of 45 and 55.
While almost 60 per cent of the respondents had some knowledge (though very limited) about what women go through each month, nearly 10 per cent were clueless.
Most respondents had no idea on whether the blood coming out of the women’s bodies was impure or not, and only 33 per cent of them said that they would alert a woman if her clothes are stained by menstrual blood.
Schools too have an important role to play in educating youngsters about menstruation and encourage discussions on it instead of keeping it under wraps. Recounting an incident from his school days, Varun S, employee at a private firm said, “We had a separate chapter on menstruation in our biology books that not many of us could understand properly by our own.
When it was time for our teacher to teach that chapter, she instructed all the boys to leave the class as the topic would ‘not be of any use to us’.” He added, “Today, when I look back at that day, I realise why many men continue to have no knowledge on this natural process that women undergo every month.”
Here Murugan said, “While most boys shy away when asked about their understanding of the subject, girls and young women have already built a wall around the topic in their minds. We meet them, address the topic in all perspectives — health and cultural — explaining that it is part of their existence and that there is nothing unusual or phenomenal about it.”
YES TO PERIODS, NO TO TABOOS
The mention of menstruation itself is a taboo in some places, besides so many other aspects related to periods
- In some cultures, it is a strict, ‘stay away from everything and everyone’ for a menstruating woman
- Even though the first period is celebrated, the ones that follow are all looked at as a matter of disgust
- Not only do men find buying sanitary napkins embarrassing, many women do so too
- Many find it unacceptable to buy a packet of sanitary napkins that are not wrapped in newspaper or put inside a black polythene bag
- The misconception that learning about menstruation in school is not something for boys
- Entering the kitchen or sleeping next to husbands during periods is considered unacceptable in some cultures
- Entering a religious place or attending religious ceremonies during periods is severely frowned upon