Let me tell you a little story about menstruation, yes menstruation, as there shouldn't be any shame talking about it. I didn’t have access to hygienic products while growing up in Bareilly, UP to manage menstruation or to put it simply, no access to sanitary pads till I passed class 12th. And given the fact that I had to ride a bi-cycle for almost 8-10 kms to reach my tuitions, it was a nightmare for me. One such day, I reached my tuition catching my breath, only to find out that I can’t really sit on a bench and had to turn back home crying inconsolably. There was nothing more important for me than attending those classes; it was a matter of life and death to get through an engineering college given my circumstances at that time.
So I missed school and tuitions several times as I didn’t have a choice.
Once, I found some courage and went to a medical shop and dared to ask how much does a sanitary napkin cost and then returned it back quietly. It was so expensive those days that I knew it was not something I could afford.
Even if you do use them, when it comes to their safe disposal, let's not even talk about how well maintained toilets in Govt School are. There was no cleaning of the toilets for several months. Most of the girls used to avoid drinking water through the day so they wouldn't have to use toilets, but during menstruation days we had no choice but to use the same toilets. In fact looking at those uncleaned toilets is when I was introduced to the concept of menstruation when I took admission in a senior school in class 6th.
It breaks my heart to see that the government is so ignorant and has no clue what is more important for little girls/women, a sanitary pad or bindi/bangles and is it so difficult to guess what should be tax exempted? And it is not only about the government; it is perhaps a reflection of our society, where priorities of life are not pro-women.
Underlying this are widely held beliefs that consider menstruation to be polluting and menstruating girls and women as impure. Girls need to be spotless in presence of males members of the family, a spot would feel no less than a crime. Sleeping on the floor is also a very common practice in rural India and small towns, thankfully I had the privilege of sleeping on the bed and make it dirty, though with an enormous amount of self-guilt.
Some of the facts are taken from an excerpt from an article of WaterAid India.
88% women in India do not have access to safe menstrual absorbents to manage their periods.
70% of the mothers consider menstruation dirty
Girls are absent for 20% of the school year due to menstruation, which is the second major reason after household work, for girls to miss school.
I am not advocating falling into the marketing traps by Multi National Companies because their prices are not meant for an average Indian woman; however, there are many other eco-friendly options available nowadays. Also, the women should at least have choices and access to decide what is good for them and whether they would like to use the traditional methods or similar products available in the market as long as they don't feel down, ugly and isolated.
Let us rise together for better menstrual hygiene management.
Original article on my website- http://www.thewomenofindia.com/blog/there-is-no-shame-in-menstruation