Women’s Hygiene: Breaking a Taboo

I am a mommy’s boy. When I was a kid, I used to cling on to my mum like a chimp all the time. Needless to say, I was sitting in the trolley every time we went shopping. Even from my toddler days, the one thing I always noticed while shopping was that my mum bought a pack or two of sanitary pads.

Back then these things were a mystery to me. I had only seen them in ads and thought they were some kind of napkin. Little did I know that, in a way, I was right. What irked me was that we never used these special napkins to dry our hands. Why I had never seen them lying around anywhere in the house. One day curiosity got the better of me and I asked my mother why we never used those napkins. The poor woman, not knowing how to explain it to her child, simply told me that they were women stuff and only women use it.

I’m a 90’s kid and where I come from, computers and internet were a luxury not everyone could afford. So hitting a dead end, I decided to accept my mum’s unconvincing answer and forget about the special napkins.

Years flew by and before I could realise, I was a 15-year-old entering high school. Needless to say, like every other boy my age, I too was very excited because we were going to learn about reproduction and safe sex in detail. While skimming through my biology book I came across the word ‘menstruation’. This caught my attention because I had heard my cousin use the word in passing while talking to my aunt and I didn’t know what it meant.

I was enlightened by what I read. Out of nowhere I suddenly remembered that question I had asked my mother all those years ago. Putting two and two together, I realised that this is exactly why women used the sanitary pads. What I did not realise was that women experience a lot of pain and discomfort during their periods.

In my defence, until that point, no women I ever knew showed any sign of discomfort at any point in time or maybe I was just too ignorant to notice, I don’t really know. But all that was about to change. As tradition and peer pressure dictates, I went to an all-boys boarding school for the final two years of school. On returning, I started to notice things about women which I had never done before. Although I could not fathom the reason since menstruation was the last thing on my mind.

Having been brought up in a patriarchal society, I used to believe in a lot of stereotypes which started disappearing once I joined college. One of them was talking to a girl about her periods. This was mostly thanks to one of my closest friends. Although she was funny and chirpy most of the time, there was a particular period of every month when she became extremely glum and forlorn. It was a recurring theme. Initially, I did not pry but I couldn’t stand seeing her depressed and sad for an entire week every month. So one day I mustered up the courage and asked her what was going on. This is when I found out that women go through extreme pain and distress during their periods. (My fellow men who think you can handle pain, imagine getting kicked in the nuts three times a day for seven days if you will. Yeah! I heard it is that bad.)

This revelation increased my respect for women to a whole new level. I started researching more about the ‘PMS’ factor as I decided to be more of a help rather than a hindrance to the women I know, especially during that difficult period. It was during this research that I learnt a lot about sanitary pads.

For centuries women used cotton clothes in order to contain the menstrual blood. But with the turn of the 20th century came the new disposable sanitary pads. At the time it was considered a boon because women in many communities across the world felt (and still do feel) embarrassed to wash their sanitary towels and dry them in the open.

But of late many people, including me, have slowly started realising the disadvantages of disposable sanitary pads. First and foremost, these pads are not particularly cheap. Women belonging to less fortunate communities and rural areas in developing nations cannot really afford them. I read disturbing news snippets of women using dirty rags, and even sand and leaves in place of sanitary napkins. Thankfully, a number of people who have also gone through such hardships are now manufacturing clean cotton pads and banana fibre pads that are highly affordable.

As far as I am aware, a product’s cost usually depends on its constituents. I wanted to know what made the disposable sanitary napkins expensive, well beyond the reach of the less fortunate. What I discovered made me flinch. Disposable sanitary towels are usually made from bleached rayon, cotton and plastic. They also contain BPA and BPS, two chemicals that disrupt embryonic development and are linked to cancer. Ever since I found this, I have made it my mission to tell people to switch to reusable organic cloth pads. First my mum, then my cousins and aunts and now a few friends. The number of people I have been able to reach out to is far less than I would have liked but I am trying.

The major problem, I feel, in many developing countries is that children are told not to talk about periods. This is a huge mistake. Menstruation is a natural phenomenon and only through discussion can we make life more comfortable for the ladies. My request to everyone is to lose their prejudice and inhibitions and be more open. Health and hygiene are of utmost importance, so kindly start using and reusing cloth pads that are made from organic cotton. Yes, many people will find it weird initially but just like everything else in the world, it will become normal with time.





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