What anybody around us knows about sanitary pads is that it is an object that the chemist wraps in a newspaper and puts in a black plastic bag before handing it out to a girl. A person unaware of this phenomenon might call the police mistaking it to be a drug deal. Further knowledge of sanitary pads (based on the advertisements on TV) is limited to an object used by women, which absorbs any amount of blue liquid poured on it, because women obviously bleed blue, don’t we?
But what we fail to understand is that a sanitary pad is something more than just that. It is a representation of the strength and power a female body possesses. To feel your body organs being crushed right inside, while going around doing your daily chores, if this isn’t strength, then I don’t know what is.
An average girl’s menstrual cycle commences at the age of around 13-14, which clearly is very soon, for these girls are yet too young to understand these things and bear all the pain, nevertheless they are taught what to do and what not to do during these 5 days of the month from their mothers, sisters and other elderly women in the family, and from this time forward, girls are expected to behave like women since they have now ‘grown up’ and are told about the need to protect their dignity and honor. From this time till the next 30-40 years, a woman goes through her cycle every month of every year, apart from the time that she is pregnant. That is approximately 360-480 cycles so with regard to that she probably uses 5400-7200 pads in her whole lifetime. So, an average woman probably gets to see more pads in her whole lifetime than she gets to see some chocolate donuts, unfortunately. Even though we’ve established how pads are one of the MOST integral parts of a woman’s life, you would not believe how many women do not even have access to them.
In India, out of all the menstruating girls and women, less than 20% use sanitary pads. Even in urban areas, this only rises to about 50%. There are many reasons for that like lack of financial resources, lack of awareness and ignorance towards women’s health. There has been a long withstanding fight of Women’s rights Non-profits against the government to eliminate the taxes on menstrual products. Women who cannot afford them figure out other alternatives to solve the crisis at hand. Earlier many of them used goods like dried grass and sticks, but now they have switched to other alternatives. Many organizations have begun manufacturing long lasting reusable pads and are giving them out for extremely minimal amounts to the women in rural areas, and they are doing a great job at it. The women who are in charge of producing them and are getting paid for it are also women from lower economic backgrounds. With more initiatives like this we will hopefully have no problem with lack of sanitary commodities and no girl will have to drop out of school.
However, we have always been surrounded by taboos and myths that exclude menstruating women from many aspects of socio-cultural life. In India, the topic has been a taboo until date. Discrimination against menstruating women is widespread in India, where periods have long been a taboo and considered impure. They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines and even kept out of kitchens.
Such taboos about menstruation present in many societies impact on girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly, health. But even though there is a taboo regarding menstruation in our society, texts that date back to several thousands of years ago, tell us a different story.
In some historic cultures, a menstruating woman was considered sacred and powerful, with increased psychic abilities, and strong enough to heal the sick. Menstrual blood was a source of feminine strength and had the power to destroy enemies. In Ancient Rome, a menstruating woman who uncovers her body can scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning Menstrual blood is viewed as especially dangerous to men’s power. In Africa, menstrual blood is used in the most powerful magic charms in order to both purify and destroy.
According to an article on Youth Ki Awaaz, blood was considered sacred, bleeding a sign of fertility. There was nothing dirty about it in ancient temples, but as Gita Thadani mentions in her book, “Moebius Trip: Digressions from India’s Highways”, there has been a suppression and a distortion of this female centered glory, where original Sanskrit texts were translated incorrectly on purpose, changing the feminine to masculine. Yoni Tantra which is a classic part of Tantra literature says: “If one should worship the yoni, bowing thrice with a flower, all karmas are destroyed and nothing in the three worlds becomes unattainable… One should always smear a line of menstrual blood or sandal paste (on the forehead) …” Imagine priests who are currently banning women from entering temples worshipping them, smearing their bodily fluids on their foreheads. The image makes me smile!
From how I see it, a period is one of the most empowering things a woman has to go through, it is liberating. It is a significance of the beginning of life, of the existence of humanity. It brings women back in touch with their selves, their body and their spirit. A period is just another thing which represents womanly strength. Choosing to differ from the society’s notions that claim her to be dirty or impure, a bleeding woman in my opinion is the most pious and holy woman. She is the epitome of the beauty of nature, the blood that is emitted every month is no ordinary blood, instead it has the power to bear a new human being, it has the potential to give birth to a new life. So, a sanitary pad is no mere piece of cloth that is used by women on a regular basis, it is something so close to women, it is something that is with her at every stage of life and something that helps ease her suffering.
Ladies, don’t forget, your period blood is the only blood that is not a result of a violent and traumatic experience, and signifies the birth of life rather than the end of it, so take pride in it. This Women’s week, embrace your femininity and find liberation in your menstruation.