Time to celebrate menstrual freedom

rural india girl

As I traveled through the villages of UP in 2019 as the head of a menstrual hygiene campaign, I witnessed the attitudes of women toward the use of pads change right in front of my eyes.

Early in the 1990s, a menstrual pad company visited my school to show us a film on menstruation and then hand out free sanitary pads. Although we were an all-girls school, we cringed at the sight of the pads. We concealed them in our bags as if we were carrying unlicensed firearms.

Why? Because menstruation and everything related to it was taboo.

Cut to 2019. I was heading a menstrual hygiene campaign for an international NGO in Uttar Pradesh.

Menstrual hygiene was not a priority for the government of Uttar Pradesh. Swachh Bharat campaign, waste management and water preservation were its main concerns. But people supported our effort.

As I went on a whirlwind trip around rural and semi-urban Uttar Pradesh, the passion of the community to bring about change in menstrual hygiene warmed my heart. A local village volunteer, who became known as “pad wale bhaiya’’, would go from house to house to distribute pads. He dug pits in the designated area to dispose of used pads and also took free classes for girls wanting to learn all about menstruation.

Then there was a school principal, an elderly man,  in a nondescript village in the interiors of UP who would stock enough pads in his house and school for the girls to use.

During one such training, I, a certified trainer, talked about mood swings and depressive feelings at the onset of my menstrual cycle, to an elderly bunch of district-level officers. But that was not the highlight of the training. The best moment was when an elderly man admitted that he had never understood why his wife and daughter occasionally became agitated. He promised to be more sensitive.

Yes. There is a long way to go. We still need to unlearn a lot of things we are conditioned to follow, but we have learned a lot as well.

Just like an Asha worker in a village in UP, who went from house-to-house convincing girls and their families to let girls perform all religious rituals during menstruation.

I saw the attitude of women towards menstrual hygiene changing in front of my eyes as I traveled across the villages of UP. I am sure, more such efforts will make an even more redeeming difference.