Many in the Woodstock community might find it shocking that some women around India use cow feces as a substitute for a sanitary pad, but many of these women do not have a choice.
As hard as it might be to accept this fact, especially after seeing young activists constantly trying to break taboos about menstruation, there still are people in the country who continue to feel disgusted by menstruation.
In fact, about a quarter of the Indian female population uses old rags, used socks, and other unhygienic items merely because the sight of a blood-stained sanitary pad is unpleasant to a man’s eyes.
Although my situation is incomparable, I too am regularly reminded about not letting anyone, mostly males, know about me being on my period. Moreover, when girls ask questions like, “is it okay if I wear white pants today even though I am on my period,” or “can you check if my period is leaking?” I feel way too conscious while bending down or even getting up from a chair, while I am menstruating.
In a community like ours, I do not want to worry about being able to wear white pants or short tops, just to make sure that no one sees the one spot of blood caused by my carelessness and will soon become a massive patch on my reputation, making me someone who has no self-respect.
But by no means am I promoting not wearing sanitary pads.
Indeed, it is necessary to stay as hygienic as possible during your period, because women are prone to getting infections easily.
My only issue is that no woman should be criticized or degraded for being on her period. She should not have the fear of bleeding through her pants or a man realizing that the female next to them is on her period because a regular menstrual cycle is a sign that important parts of her body are working normally.
As of May 2017, a Congress representative in Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) actually initiated the discussion of a Private Member’s Bill which focuses on developing a new policy on menstrual leave. But controversy is inevitable.
A spokesperson from The Indian National Congress opposed the idea by saying that “the challenge of women’s empowerment in India [is] to ensure their participation in the workforce” a menstrual leave, she argued, will lead to a downward step on the climb towards equality.
Even if the bill manages to pass, the rural population will not stop considering women unclean during their period. In fact, they will continue to face social, religious and cultural restrictions until both men and women are educated about menstrual health.
Moreover, if sanitary pads remain expensive and unavailable in certain parts of India, just because some men believe that they are dirty, cow feces as a replacement is no solution to this massive issue.
Women are supposed to keep themselves as clean as possible during their period, but if they feel ashamed of the process, there is no way anyone can stop them from using such alternatives.
I hope there comes a day when movies like Pad Man are not required to address menstrual stigma, and no girl in the nation is ashamed of a very natural process that happens in her body.
As a girl who started menstruating at an early age, I know how it feels to be constantly mocked by friends for being on my period. Ironically, the place or the people are not in a rural location, in fact, it is a cosmopolitan, so imagine what kind of hardships girls from unaccepting communities have to go through.
My mother was there to support me and look after me when I got my period, but these young females have no clue about how their body is changing and how they must learn to embrace this change. For them, it is the beginning of their life long misery.
If our aim is to empower women to receive education, political representation, and jobs, we must not ignore the importance of proper menstrual education.
In order, for these women to bring change within their communities and the world, they must learn to respect themselves and their bodies.
We as the youth need to make females in our community secure about being on their period, only then can we realize that menstruation is natural.
Archita Aggarwal is the news editor for The Woodstocker
Edited by Nalin Mahajan