Girl to a boy:
“I’m cramping really bad, won’t come out tonight.”
Aunt to her niece:
“Beta, don’t enter the kitchen, just let us know if you need water.”
Mother to her daughter:
“Shh.. don’t say that word here, your uncle is around.”
Father to his daughter:
“Here, take this anti-spasm and hot water bottle and just sleep. You’ll get better.”
These are just a few different situations I’ve encountered in different parts of my country.
Having lived a life where my father brought me hot tea, medicine and hot water bottle in times of severe menstrual pain and my male coach told me to rest during my cycle so as to not overburden my body, it was only at the age of 14 that I discovered – this was the life of a privileged woman.
The trigger of this discovery was a family trip to a distant relative’s house in Bombay. My sister and I experienced a cultural shock when we were told that the two of us could not enter the kitchen as we were both on our period. At that moment, we were given a list of instructions, “rules to follow during menstruation”. They included:
For those few days, we were restricted to one room and a toilet in the house, and, of course, to sitting in the car when the family decided to visit the beautiful temples in the city. Aware of our discomfort, our mother decided to take us to her friend’s place for the remainder of the visit. In that house, we were treated like normal people. We joyfully entered the kitchen in peace, immediately feeling the difference between this sense of freedom and our prior days of agonizing restriction. But what about the daughters of the other household? Would they ever get the chance to live as normal women? In retrospect, I realised that the restrictions placed upon them during menstruation was their normal. The way we are socialised in society, the taboos, the rules, and the right way to behave is what we accept, either due to unawareness or a lack of power to change the rules.
This story has another page. The home of our relatives in Bombay was in proximity to a landfill that was overflowing, like most other landfills. It was the first time I saw the reality of our daily waste – plastic piled several meters high, on top of which would go the menstrual pads we used that month. This waste would continue to accumulate and rot near the households for decades to come, unless we changed what we consumed.
A few years later…
“I’ve been using these for more than 5 years now and I cannot imagine going back to plastic pads or tampons!”,
said the lady at EcoFemme, an organisation working with local women to produce cloth pads and menstrual cups in Auroville, Tamil Nadu.
I was empowered by the choice of washable, chemical-free cloth pads that are not only good for my body, but also the environment. This solution driven team of women in the South of India has made it possible for many communities to change their perception and acceptability of a woman’s natural cycle.
I took it as my responsibility to carry this solution with me wherever I go – I found myself sitting in a house in the mountains in Lohajung village, talking to a group of female farmers about menstrual taboos in their community. At that moment, I understood that it only takes a friendly conversation over tea to break the ice and openly talk about the ‘rules of menstruation’.
Till the age of 14, I was not only privileged, but also ignorant of those privileges. While the experience at my relatives’ in Bombay made me aware, the women in Auroville gave me power to spread this awareness. The female farmers in Lohajung welcomed a new way to experience menstruation, and the women at Sciences Po, Paris have held hands to widen this circle of knowledge and acceptance.
Many changes are needed in India and around the globe in regards to menstrual taboos, our natural cycles, and the sensitivity to the waste we produce. We have a lot of conversations ahead of us, with men and women alike. My story is just a glimpse into one of the million journeys towards positive change.
I feel heavy, drained, I cry, I lay, I cramp, I stay.
She, she goes for a jog, she works in the fields, she dances all day long, she gives a winning presentation, she wears her boxing gloves and punches the feeling out.
You, you are free, you jump, you hop, you run, you can fly.
This is us. Women. This is our life for most of our lives. We celebrate it, we talk about it… or maybe not. In any case, we embrace it.
Embrace it with us.