Menstruation is still considered as a taboo where a woman’s body becomes the symbolic representation of rules and regulations imposed by the society. Like other societies, in India, too this subject has been a taboo until date. Mostly euphemisms are used to explain the phenomenon in order to avoid uncomfortable glares in public. It is unfortunate that even in 21st century talks on periods, menstrual hygiene and sanitary napkins in public spaces are shamed and considered inappropriate.
Societal Stigma and Ignorance on the part of women’s health
While discussing the missing discourses on menstruation it is important to mention the associated stigmas. Despite widely viewed movies and documentaries like “Padman”, “Period. End of Sentence, women are not free to discuss their periods as a natural phenomenon. It seems that such visuals are not adequate to explain the biological process which requires attention. It is very important to explain menstrual hygiene not as a woman-centric issue but as a normal health factor like why it happens to a woman, when it happens, how to deal with the health problems of menstruation and above all it is not a curse that makes women impure. Due to lack of awareness in many parts of India woman are subjected to social exclusion, confined in separate rooms, barred from worshipping and performing religious activities, etc. In some situations women are denied access of sanitary napkins due to stereotypical beliefs and are instructed to use reusable clothes. Women living in some backward rural areas don’t even have the access to sanitary pads. Such unfavorable conditions lead to serious health problems among women like vaginal infections, infection in the uterus and can also result in leakage. The superstitions related to periods also affect an woman’s regular lifestyle and emotional state of mind. Such narratives require special attentive measures by concerned authorities while discussing the missing social discourses.
Need for healthy menstrual products
Awareness related to menstrual hygiene is the need of the hour to normalize the phenomenon. There is the need to promote biodegradable sanitary napkins which is also a missing in the discourse. Disposing off the non-biodegradable pads in the drains, flushing in toilets and throwing open in dustbins result in serious environmental challenges like choking, filthy streets, noxiousness, etc. Recently, “Pee Safe”, a shopping website dealing in hygiene products for women, has introduced biodegradable cotton pads and recyclable menstrual cups which are more hygienic and eco-friendly. Menstrual cups ensure sustainable living than pads. But these products should be popularized and made affordable for women belonging to all the sections. Till now these products are only accessible to a few privileged women living in the urban setup who can order these online or get in the city malls. While promoting awareness the benefits of using these products should be discussed especially in rural areas and focus on the ways to make these items available to them.
The “Missing” Menstrual Benefit Bill 2017
Lastly, the most important missing discourse is the political one. On January, 2018 an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, Ninong Ering tried to bring a bill called the Menstrual Benefit Bill in the lower house of the Parliament. But till today the Menstrual Benefit Bill 2017 which proposes that women working in both the public and private spheres will be given two days of paid menstrual leave each month has not been approved or discussed in the Parliament. The Bill also ensured some relieving facilities to the women in workplace on their days of periods (Manjunath, Feminism in India). In India, only Bihar has the provision of this kind of leave.
The Patriarchal Outlook
The above mentioned missing discourses indicate the patriarchal structure of Indian society and also demands attention of the authorities to focus on the conditions of women’s health specially the underprivileged ones. Women face multiple challenges during menstruation due to the stigmatization of society more than the actual health issues. Therefore such issues are in dire need of voices and constructive measures to protect the women from becoming vulnerable during menstruation because menstruation is not an illness to be cured and neither a sign of weakness. It won’t continue to be a gendered issue once it is addressed and accepted as a natural biological process.