As citizens of the world, we must at first understand that there can be no single societal problem that affects the entire world with the same intensity. Depending upon the socioeconomic situation, lifestyle, culture, and beliefs of the people, different parts of the world have different societal problems to deal with, each one important in its own context. Thus, in this essay, as an Indian, I shall cover the single most important societal problem that I believe ails my community—period poverty and the stigma surrounding menstruation.
As a girl, my experiences and interactions with people regarding menstruation since I was very young have helped me realize that a lot of superstitions and stigma still surround this topic. In my understanding, this is one of the major problems holding our community back from societal progress and development.
Openly discussing menstruation is still considered taboo, especially mentioning anything regarding this aspect before men. No one is really ready to explain to young menstruators what changes their bodies are going through. My own mother was unwilling to do so when I started menstruating, and it was actually a friend of mine, the same age as me, who explained the phenomenon, though vaguely and with inaccurate facts. It was about three years later that through my biology book, I came to know the reason behind my monthly cycle.
Such instances are still not uncommon even in the 21st century, and it is mainly this lack of awareness that leads to the spreading of fear, misinformation, and stigma regarding menstruation, and has even led menstrual blood being labeled as “impure.” Because of this, menstruators are often subjected to unreasonable restrictions while on their monthly cycle, which ends up becoming an obstruction for their personal as well as professional development.
Even until the beginning of the 21st century, menstruating women were treated as impure, and not even allowed to enter the kitchen. They had to sleep on the floor, or were even locked in the cowshed for the menstrual cycle. They suffered in unsanitary conditions with no one to take care of them. Even though the situation is not as serious now, the stigma still exists, especially for menstruators who are diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or other similar conditions, as they are regarded to be “infertile.”
Further, the widespread disregard for the LGBTQIA+ community, and the lack of recognition of the fact that not just cis-women, but trans men and other members of the community can be menstruators as well, further deepens the problem and negatively affects access to period products because of which menstruators are often compelled to survive in unhygienic circumstances.
The first step should be to spread awareness about menstruation and the biological process regulating it so that periods no longer remain a topic to be whispered about behind closed doors. The second step should be improving access to period products for all, first by promoting their use, and second by conducting and encouraging distribution drives.
Yes, it can be agreed upon that the government has a role to play in this. This can be achieved through policy changes. The government can make it compulsory for all schools to introduce comprehensive sex education as well as menstrual awareness and hygiene classes for students of all genders. It can also delegate the responsibility of conducting periodic public menstrual hygiene sessions to the various state governments. The government can also take the initiative to subsidize production of period products, so as to ensure better accessibility and affordability of these products for menstruators.
Yet, it would be much too simple to petition the government once and leave it to them to take necessary steps in this direction. However, we as youth are important stakeholders in our communities as we are future leaders and decision makers, and have the power to become change makers in our communities. We should not shake our responsibility to strive for positive reform in our societies by virtue of our new ideas and our youthful energy. Even when it comes to policy making, we as youth can contribute through policy symposiums, by conveying our opinions on the kind of policies that should be introduced.
Motivated by my desire to root out the stigma around menstruation as well as period poverty, I took up a leadership portfolio in a youth organization working toward the same goals I have.
I worked with the NGO, “The Period Society” to spread awareness about and distribute period products to those in need. I am a Senior Chapter Coordinator at TPS, and oversee the establishment of new chapters across India. Over a year, I have helped establish over 30 new chapters. I also oversee the workings of many of these chapters, who are responsible for organizing distribution drives, educational sessions, awareness campaigns, and to try and reduce the stigma around menstruation in the city or state they are based in. We are happy to find people around us now being somewhat more receptive to the changing attitude toward menstruation for the better.
It is not too late yet; we should collaborate as a community and immediately start working on this emergent issue while there is still time, to guarantee a safer and more empathetic future for our future generations. Over time, through the collective efforts of driven and dedicated individuals in our community, I am sure we will be able to root out this problem and move toward a new brighter horizon.
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