I belong to a family in which my Dad and I went out together to bring a pack of sanitary pads for Amma, where Amma told me that it was not forbidden to go anywhere while I was menstruating because it was just a biological function like many others and the husband did not mind to do the yuckiest (!?!) related chores for me when I was lying down with an injured knee. No no, I am not telling this to earn some brownie points for the family, but just to tell you why girls remaining absent from schools during *those* days or *sssshhhing* any talk about it made me feel that it was the highest priority issue (!?!) we had to work towards.
As I dived into it more and more, I discovered how deeply rooted the beliefs and fears and confusions were. The parents don’t allow their daughters to come to school during those days, and in some cases the teachers themselves ask the girls to take 5 days off. After travelling extensively to schools around the city and to rural areas, we could infer the following:
- Many girls in the city are aware of sanitary pads, but do not use them because they think they can use the same amount to buy more *important* things. Some girls even told us that their mothers lived with the cloth, so it could not be so bad after-all.
- The girls who use sanitary pads do not dispose them off properly because they don’t want the males in the family to ask them what they are carrying in their hands. They either throw it down the drain (recollect all that clogging on the roads :|). Some of them even bury it in the soil because they believe in Sarpa-shaapa (that a snake crawling over it will bring curse upon them). Water sources are other favourite spots for disposal.
- Some women in rural areas resort to shocking alternatives like husk, sand or not using anything at all 😦 I did not know how to react when a lady told me that she does not use anything at all, and just sits confined to a corner.
- Some women did not even want to open their mouth because anything on the topic makes them feel like we are raising fingers towards their reproductive capabilities.
- Since many people have already asked me this question, it is definitely almost a culture change for these girls/ women to change to pads. But, the major problem lies in the fact that they do not use the cloth in a hygienic way. Girls tell us they put the cloth on the drying line and cover it up with their mother’s sari lest anybody sees it. Not only that, they use the same cloth for months together and share with other family members
If we could tell them to wash the cloth well, dry them in sun/shade and discard old clothes every 3 months or whenever they wear out, it should still be okay. But, the case is very different when it comes to school girls. Many girls told me that they go home every 2-3 hours to check and change into another cloth.
- The girls told us they go to medical stores, ask for medicines for stomach ache and take whatever they are given 🙄
The problem is not limited to usage or non-usage of pads and hygiene alone. It is mostly to do with the fact that the girls do not know what they are going through, why it is happening to them and more importantly that it is okay for one girl to *mature* later than her friends, to be shorter or thinner or fatter than them and that they should LOVE AND TAKE CARE OF THEIR BODY. So many girls do not tell the truth when you ask them if they have started their cycles, because they are scared of being left out of the crowd 😦
When we first started interacting with the girls, they were so shy to talk even if we just started with ice-breaking sessions. When I asked them what changes they observe in their bodies, one girl told me that her hair had grown long, she had lost a tooth and so on 😛 Some girls even told us they would throw away the sanitary pads if we would give them any.
It is only after months of meeting them and talking to them about ‘n‘ different topics ranging from movies to what all I do for my husband and home (they ask me questions on these ;)), that they feel free and start telling/asking us things. And that is when they openly told us how much better they felt with the usage of pads – they could come to school, there was no itching and they did not feel clumsy. A step closer towards our goal 🙂 Ideally, all we can do is let them know that it is more about hygiene – whether they use pad/ cloth and let them take a decision as to what suits them better.
A senior person in the field of Seva that I happened to meet was telling us how the world would be a different place even if every person cared for just one another person. People may not have time or the resources, which is absolutely fine! The least they can do is to ask their night watchman if he had a good sleep during the day, find out if his wife had enough food for everybody that day and if their kids had pencils to write their assignments. It appealed to me because we usually tend to forget people around us and go far and wide to serve the society. I think this makes a lot of sense in the above context. If we could get our domestic help, her daughter etc.. to understand the importance of staying clean and staying safe during her cycle and not be shy about it, we will go a long way in creating a healthy society. Each one,serve one 🙂
I thought I will share a pic before I put a full-stop on this post.
When two girls came forward to demo how to use a sanitary pad …. means a lot!
I wanted to put down these experiences long ago but never did. Looks like it had to wait for this Blogging Contest 😉
Happy Weekend and StayFree all of you 😀