20 January 2014

So I have periods, big deal!

Growing up a girl, one day you find that you are bleeding: down below, in a place that you know isn't supposed to be talked about. If you are lucky, someone (my mom in my case) has told you to expect it. The bleeding is followed by cramps and the necessity of thinking about sanitary napkins. I feel that in my adolescence what passed for a sanitary napkin was a tea towel, rolled up. My gait changed to accommodate this new fat accessory.

One day you need to go to the store to buy one of these. When you asked for it at the pharmacy (long before you had the luxury of shopping in privacy at a supermarket), you got a glance and then hurriedly, a display of varieties. Sometimes you didn't even get the display. You got asked how many packets you wanted. It got wrapped in a newspaper and then shoved into a black plastic bag. Why was it treated like contraband? I was once sitting with my purchase, a packet of napkins, in my lap while reading the newspaper in the common area of the girls' hostel. An inmate walked up and asked in a whisper, "May be you should hide that thing?" Why was that my display of a commonly used female product in a GIRL's only environment, evoke such prejudice? Every babe in the hostel used one. You bought it in the stores located on the premise. Why should I hide it?

Then there were the practices around the experience, which luckily I did not have to experience. In homes, there was a big do: hurrah, the girl has come of age, have a puja. Or, yikes, you have your periods, stay away from the kitchen and Puja room. If you believe in God, do you think He/She really would have created an experience that would exclude you from worshiping Him/Her? Isn't purity of mind more important than "purity" of body? Actually, I don't even understand why the menstruation state is considered *impure*? It's a bodily secretion, that you can't control; just like sweat. You don't stop going to the puja room on a hot day, when you are sweating, do you?

I know I write from a position of privilege. I have the luxury of using a pad, many in India don't. I have the luxury of taking a break from my routine when I have my periods, many women I know, don't.

Watch this awesome video, a TED talk by Mr Arunachalam Muruganantham, who designed a low cost sanitary making machine for rural Indian women. He was inspired by his wife's discomfort, the fact that she had to choose between the milk budget and using a pad. The funniest point comes when he describes that he didn't find women to test his pads. So, he wore one himself, using a sac that dripped animal blood on to the cloth! Wow, just WOW.

Here's something I want to put out to my readers:

1. The environmental impact of using a pad: Fancy cotton type material goes to make the filling, but the base is plastic. Obviously, not biodegradable in our lifetime. I have been thinking about an alternative, and found something made in Auroville (http://ecofemme.org/). These are washable cloth pads. If your blood makes your squirm, too bad. Just imagine all those women who use home made rags instead of polished pads!
2. Donate old cotton clothes to organizations that make cheap cloth pads for economically weaker women. There's Goonj, spread over different parts of the country, which I used in Hyderabad. I give to an NGO in R T Nagar now.
3. Being mindful of pad disposal: Previously, you used newspaper to wrap soiled pads, and today, you can use the plastic wrapping that comes along. The next step, is to put it in a newspaper bag - I collect it in a bag made by stapling three sides of a newspaper - when it is full, I seal the whole thing, and putting a big red X on it. This identifies it as hazardous biological waste. The sad thing is I don't know if our trash collectors do segregate it out. At least, it is easily identifiable now.


  1. Thanks for sharing

  2. momsince27,

    Thanks a lot for your positive comment. I was worried that this post might be risque!

  3. I prefer tampons. no plastic ( of course pick ones with the cardboard applicators , so biodegradable. and convienient too.

  4. mythilirajesh,

    Thanks for bringing up tampons. For me personally, they don't work; superbly uncomfortable. Also, used tampons are flushed in the loo and this, depending on the plumbing situation of the country you are in, can lead to nasty situation. I am aware that you can wrap it up, like you do a pad: but that's still the landfill option. On balance though, I think a cotton tampon is more eco-friendly than a commercially available sanitary pad.

    Here in India: a) tampons are not popular at all, I wonder if this more to do with taboo associated with touching "unclean" body parts; b) I wouldn't dare flush it down the toilet. The plumbing can't handle it. If you are in India, perhaps you have a different experience? Please share it.