Having The Period Of Dignity
Dr. Prativa Subedi
Unlike other students, I hate holidays because when college is off, I have to stay in our shop.I was in our shop this afternoon reading a comic book. I had almost dozed off when I got awoken by a loud voice “One box of Surya”. I gave one packet to this blond haired guy who appeared to be in his early 20s. He then lit his cigarette and started taking puffs, as if he was showing off his gallantry to a woman. Suffocated with the smoke, I started coughing heavily. Thankfully, he left.
After around 5 minutes, came another lady who was clad in a yellow kurta and her head wrapped in a green shawl. She was muttering something, but I could not exactly make it out. Nor could I understand her non verbal cues. She was feeling so nervous and awkward that I thought that she wanted an Emergency Contraceptive pill. I asked her to point at the thing she wanted to buy. To my surprise, she pointed out to a Sanitary pad. I was not just surprised, I was saddened to the deep. Isn’t it strange that a guy can roar loud for a packet of cigarette but a girl has to whisper for a sanitary pad?
I had once raised a discussion at the college “ Would menses still be considered a taboo, if it were men who menstruated?” “ Bleeding then would not be considered a sign of impurity, rather pride and vanity” I had put forward my opinion then and was heavily criticised for being overly feministic. Neverthless, this is not my topic of discussion today. My focus is on how can we ensure dignified menstruation for women?
As long as the deep rooted superstitions regarding menses continue to prevail, dignified menstruation will just be an unachievable motto. We need to aware everyone that menstruation is a part of normal physiological response. If a girl is bleeding every month, it is a sign that her reproductive tract is normal and that she is capable of childbirth. Bleeding therefore is a blessing indeed. How strange is that we worship mother and motherhood, but we banish the process that leads to motherhood? At a time when a woman needs the utmost care, we isolate her, refrain her from religious rituals or even family gatherings, neither let her eat the normal food we do nor eat what’s cooked by her because she is labeled ‘untouchable’.
There is this famous quote by Von Goethe, “ Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. “ I know there are a lot of so called social activists out there who advocate loudly about dignified menstruation in the public, but when they come home, they refrain their daughters or themselves from entering the family kitchen during menses. Change begins at home. Before thriving to reduce the social stigma of menstruation, we should first try to reduce the stigma of our own little sisters regarding menstruation so that they can share their problems related to menstrual health openly and we need to prepare them beforehand for menarche. And I believe that we should educate not just women but also men about the process of menstruation.
Sanitary pads, though are good option, have their own environmental hazards. Researches say that sanitary pads take around 200 years to be decomposed. Few days back, Nepal launched its first disposable eco sanitary pad that are made of pine and cotton in Chitwan. While it eliminates the biohazard, there is not the tediousness of washing and drying as well, and therefore can be a great milestone. With menstrual tampoon, you can enjoy greater freedom of activity and there’s no sense of wetting. But if not changed in time, it can lead to infections, Toxic Shock Syndrome, being the deadliest of all.
One newer advancement is Menstrual cups. Unlike pads and tampoons which actually adsorb blood, cups collect blood. Once they get filled up, they can be poured off, washed and reinserted. It needs to be boiled for sterilisation and can be reused every month. If used properly menstrual tampoon can be a boon in term of biohazard, cost effectiveness and ease of mobility. But unfortunately, not many girls use it. To be honest, I have not used it till date. Leave the tampoons and cups, I am concerned that whether or not the disposable eco sanitary pads that are relatively safer can take a good market in the country because people hardly try anything new. I sometimes wonder, we need the latest model gadgets in our hand- the latest model of cellphone, we want the newest collection of cloth, ride the newest bike in the town.
The other major problem is regarding disposal and sanitation. We girls have a really tough time during menses not just because of the pain and bleeding but because there are not much toilets. This is a key problem specially in the villages. In towns, even if there are toilets we do not have water. I remember going to the Central Department of Tribhuvan University once during my menses. My pants had been stained because of heavy bleeding. I wanted to wash it off, and therefore rushed to the loo but literally, none of the toilet there had water. If the biggest university in the country does not have water facility, what can we expect elsewhere? Another problem is with the dustbin. Even some of the big hotels in the town do not have dustbin. Due to lack of dustbin for disposal, many people flush it in the pan itself. As the pad is non-decomposable, it gets backed up and creates another embarrassing mess. There have been instances where owing to lack of dustbins outdoors, I have wrapped the used pads in paper, kept it in my bag all day and finally disposed it at home in the evening.
While our focus is on big things, these little things are always missed out. Just ensuring that there are water and dustbin in all toilets, can be a great help and relief to females. Thankfully, menstrual hygiene is being highly prioritised by the government as well as other NGOs and INGOs lately in Nepal. Menstrual awareness campaigns and sanitary pad distribution programs are being conducted in several nooks and corners. But alongside that, it is important to address these issues as well.
Dignified menstruation is not just linked to health and hygiene, it is a part of women empowerment. On one hand, it helps to eliminate their inferiority complex imposed by menses related stigma, and it enhances their productivity during the days of menses on the other. As writer and activist Radha Paudel says “ Maryadit Mahinawari Hami sabai ko Jimmewari” i.e “ Dignified menstruation is all of our responsibility”.
(The author is an intern at Kist Medical College, Gwarko)