Stain The Stigma: St. Teresa College

‘Stain the Stigma’ is an initiative by the Final Year students of the Department of Communicative English, St. Teresa’s College(Autonomous), Ernakulam. The campaign aims at removing various social stigmas and taboos around Menstruation along with educating the general public about Menstrual Hygiene.

“Do not wear white clothes, do not enter the kitchen, do not get into the temple , don’t run , don’t jump”. Without any more questions and clarifications, it is very evident that the individual who is being instructed here is a woman and it is her ‘that time of the month’. ‘That time of the month’ , again a usage that is testament to the fact that euphemism still rules when the topic under conversation is Menstruation. A recent study conducted by Clue,a Menstrual Cycle Tracking Application and The International Women’s Health Coalition found that more than 5000 slang terms and euphemism exist for the word Menstruation. ‘Aunt Flow’, ‘Shark Week’, ‘the time of the month’, ‘Blood Mary’,etc are some of the most commonly used code words for periods. Though periods is nothing but a natural bodily process of women, it is still seen as something that should be whispered about and not talked about in public. Something that men should not even get to know.

teachers discussing with students
In India only 80% menstruating women have access to sanitary pads. Many women, especially the underprivileged section and those belonging to rural parts of the country, still use rags, dry leaves and straw in place of sanitary pads. This also results in various reproductive tract infections and diseases among women some of which could prove to be fatal. One out of five girl students in India drop out of school after the onset of menstruation. This is a clear indication of how traumatizing the onset of menstruation could be for some women in India. Societal taboos and lack of awareness have given rise to many misconceptions regarding menstruation. Even today there are girls who feel they are dying when they first see those red spots. Such is the extent of misconceptions prevalent in our society regarding menstruation.
Through the campaign we aim at removing such misconceptions and taboos regarding menstruation along with highlighting the importance of menstrual hygiene. We believe changes should begin at the grass root level.

 

a male teacher talking to students

So, as part of the campaign, awareness sessions will be held in schools and orphanages in and around Ernakulam. Both boys and girls would attend the sessions together as opposed to the usual practice of segregating the boys and girls while talking about menstruation. The first of such sessions was held on 5th December 2017 at the Govt Higher Secondary School, Elamakkara. The students were introduced to the topic with the aid of clippings from popular movies, videos, a dance performance and a skit. Ms. Reena Madhu and Mr. Fabel Varghese, Professors of The Department of Applied Psychology and Counselling, TocH Institute of Science and Technology, Arakunnam handled the classes for the students on menstrual hygiene and taboos respectively. The positive feedback we received from the students and teachers of the school has urged us to work more enthusiastically towards the cause.

Menstruation is a part of the lives of women that women are forced to hide and keep quiet about. We feel that social attitudes need to be changed immediately so that women are no longer weighed down by the shame of it. One-half of society must not be shunned for what is nothing but a natural bodily process.

 

Written by : Anagha Pradeep

#MenstrualHygieneDay Special: Period Paatu, a video on menstrual hygiene products

“Look at contraceptive pills, we are really not looking into the ill effects of these pills because women use them, same goes for menstruation products. Because women use it, it is not something that main stream media cares to discuss.” – Sofia Ashraf

Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed on May 28, annually. It is observed and not celebrated because there continues to be a certain lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene and so this day is observed with the intention of bringing about awareness, break taboos regarding menstruation, as well as educating women and young girls about good menstrual hygiene practices. Several interesting things happened in 2017 for Menstrual Hygiene Day. But one that caught our attention was Sofia Ashraf’s video on menstrual hygiene.

“Awareness about what goes inside or outside your virgina”- SofiAshraf, Sista from the South

After experimenting with several different menstrual products and experiencing each one individually Ashraf felt the need to educate a certain section of women who have access to menstrual products about the pros and cons of different products.

Ashraf explains, “I started off with pads and then moved onto tampons for functional reasons. When I moved on to tampons I started getting infection and so I approached a gynecologist and that’s when the gynecologist told me about the ill effects of tampons. Tampons have bleach and chemicals in them and they are not meant for India tropical climate so this led me to do a lot of research on menstrual products”

Ashraf undertook research for about a year, talking to people and getting to know more about menstrual products. Her research led her to find out a lot of information which she was unaware of.

Through the course of her research, she found out that sanitary pads are made of 90% plastic, moreover these pads take 600 to 800 years to decompose. Sanitary workers are compelled to take up these blood soaked pads with their bare hands which again lead to a lot of diseases. The amount of chemical used in tampons is again harmful to the body which can lead to vaginal infection.

“A lot of people are not talking about it because in this country talking about menstruation itself is such a taboo, talking about these other facets of menstruation is just completely under the table”

Ashraf works with a channel called Blush where she has started a show called “Sista from the South” which deals with a number of women related issues. She has previously worked on issues like body image and menstruation. The content of this channel, Ashraf claims, is content for women by women using humour and music to target issues that aren’t generally spoken about.

“Mainstream media is dominated by male writers, male directors to a point where a woman’s perspective is often ignored. So the whole point of Sista from the South is just to bring in a woman’s perspective into social media.” – Sofia Ashraf

Period Paatu: A video about choices

According to Ashraf, her latest video on the different menstrual products is a result of her research. While there are various issues regarding menstruation, Sofia aims to address one particular issue in this video. Her video talks about the pros and cons of specifically 3 menstrual products – pads, tampons and menstrual cups. The other menstrual products used are ignored intentionally as Ashraf says that her intention was not to address all the problems related to menstruation. She would like to deal with each problem individually. Her intention behind making a video in English and uploading it on YouTube is clear when she says that she only aims to address 2% of the Indian population who have access to an English education as well as YouTube. These are the people who can afford to buy products such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups. Her video tries to explain to women that while these products are easily available and affordable by them, they also need to know the side effects of these products to make an informed choice  about the type of product one is using.

There is a need for women to be well informed about the products that they are use during menstruation. Making informed decisions about the product one is using is a necessary step. However, there is also a need for manufactures to produce more biodegradable products and use a little less chemical while making these products. These are important issues that need to be looked at and discussed. Since these problems concern women, there is not much talk about it. Media also tends to ignore such issues because social media tends to be male centric. There is a certain taboo when it comes to speaking about menstruation and other women related issues.

Ashraf however claims to target only 2% of the India population through her YouTube video which she calls the privileged class. This class has access to menstrual products and it is necessary for them to understand the pros and cons of each menstrual product.

India however consists of a large number of women from different socio-economic backgrounds and each of these women face different problems regarding menstruation which has to be dealt with individually. Most women also suffer due to the stigma attached to menstruation as well as the inability to purchase these menstrual products.  This definitely calls for more voice. It would be definitely useful to think about different ways in which all the other issues related to menstrual hygiene may be discussed on all days and not just on Menstrual Hygiene Day.

About the writer:

Marian Dias is a sociology graduate who hopes to start teaching the subject someday soon. Apart from loving outdoor games like basket ball and cricket, she also loves to travel and visit new places.

May 28 Menstrual Hygiene Day: #PeriodPositive with ProjectKHEL

Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed annually on May 28. This year, Hidden Pockets decided to get on Twitter to spread some period love, joy and information on Menstrual Hygiene Day along with ProjectKHEL. Our conversation on Twitter has been captured and storified below. Spread the love! Period!