One form of untouchability that we must work to eradicate is menstrual untouchability. Unique to women, this oppression is based on the idea that a woman’s body is defective and dirty, and can pollute people and spaces if not kept in check. A recent incident in a school in Uttar Pradesh highlights the need to fight the notion that menstruation is a cause for shame or punishment. The principal of Kasturba Gandhi Residential School in Digri village made 70 girls strip and be searched for menstrual blood. Following complaints by students and parents, the principal was fired. Parents and teachers of girls should help them to manage periods comfortably and to value the vitality in their bodies, including their menstrual blood, which makes it possible for a woman to nourish new life.
It is good that the community in Muzzafarnagar took decisive action against this outrage; yet menstrual untouchability persists in stark and subtle ways, not only in far flung villages but also among the urban educated. In the march to consign menstrual taboo to the dustbin of history, one important step is to make periods more comfortable.
Soft, stylish cloth pads have helped bring conversations about menstrual hygiene out into the open.
Another option that makes for a happy period experience is the menstrual cup. Gaining popularity among women around the world, it is still unknown to many, both urban and rural. Apart from availability and affordability, when it comes to using the menstrual cup, there is the issue of taboo which women must overcome. Would a woman feel comfortable inserting a cup in her vagina? Would she wince at the idea of collecting her menstrual blood in a cup? On the website of the Diva Cup, one of the oldest menstrual cup companies, one of the topics listed is “The Ick Factor.” Would a rural woman have a harder time getting past the “ick factor” than her urban educated counterpart? And would a rural woman have clean water to use to clean the cup?
My friend Nirmala, who lives in Appalagraharam in rural Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh, decided to try the cup two years ago. I recently asked her how she liked it. She said that it was comfortable and saved water as well as money. Listen:
She also said something I had not heard before, which was that the cup was “good for people with bathrooms.” While Ask Amma readers take access to bathrooms and clean water for granted, the majority of Indians cannot. Even those who have bathrooms at home cannot depend on finding a hygienic toilet while out and about – many of the public toilets lack supply of clean water or any water. So we have a long way to go before the majority of women in India can consider using the menstrual cup cleanly and comfortably.