I have a master’s degree: I know what menstruation is. But a year and a half ago, during the first year of my Masters I was not aware of the terms periods or menstruation. I never cared about mahwari, the Hindi for period, when I was in high school. Even teachers never discussed it. I had read some magazines about periods in Hindi provided by my Auntie who is an Aanganbadi worker. But at that time nobody taught us anything about periods so I never understood the TV advertisement of Whisper Choice or Stayfree pads. But on my masters a female friend introduced me to the words period and menstruation. She taught me about them, she made me understand that it’s a fundamental healthy property of a healthy woman. After that, I was introduced to Restless Development, where I got residential training on Sustainable Development Goal 5; Gender Equality and Family Planning. During the training, I felt confident to talk freely about Periods/Menstruation.
Now, I have to say that I passed out of my secondary examination from a rural school. I never learnt the term period on my own, from my school, from my parents, or from my friends. When I flashback to my childhood I remember that ladies were using clothes to keep themselves dry, such as sarees or petticoats. And that they wouldn’t let anybody see what it was those clothes were used for. They even used to wash them in the dirty water of the pond not the hand pump or well nearby (to avoid being seen).
Now, I realise why most of the women of my village, and the neighboring village suffered from uterus infections, and vaginal infections including ladies of my home. Almost 3 women out of 10 undergo the removal of their uterus by surgery in my village. Although child Marriages, early child pregnancies, birthing more than 3 or 4 children are other reasons for such a high infection rate.
Recently, I visited my old village; my mother organised a meeting with women in self help groups. I started talking about periods; suddenly I got a response from them, keeping their heads down and starting to smile. I got to know after some time that they use the same clothes every month. None of them has ever seen a sanitary pad. The majority had never even heard of a sanitary pad. I talked to the teachers of my village. They told me that the government is supposed to provide free pads for adolescents, to be distributed through them, but that they were never provided with them.
Women of the village feel shame in talking about periods among men. But I started talking about it with the help of my mother because she is also leading 5 self help groups of more than 70 women. It is very difficult to make them understand about these terms because the women in my village are almost illiterate. And those that are literate face the barriers of religious and patriarchal beliefs.
Shishu Ranjan, is a Youth Accountability Advocate working on Restless Development’s projects in India.
Also read about ‘Making periods normal in Uganda’