Menstruation, as natural a process as it is, never really turns out to be a topic discussed in groups or in most other forums–even in well off or middle class societies. Imagine the situation in low income communities: A girl getting her period for the first time asks her mother what it is. In reply she hears “Abhi tum badi ho gaye…bas ….har mahina aayega…pad use karo…aur is time mein puja mat karo aura char mat khao” (Now you have grown up….every month you are going to get it…just use pads…do not worship god and do not eat pickles). So instead of explaining that it is a natural process and how the entire menstrual cycle works and sharing pros and cons of menstrual hygiene, our girls just grow up with the knowledge that menstruation is a taboo and a 5-7 day punishment given to women, forcing them to refrain from various things (ranging from not washing their hair, not cooking, not eating sour things …. the list just continues). At the same time, if a girl does not start menstruating by 15, anxiety sets in as the sign of their fertility is missing. Having worked for 2 years in low income communities of Pune, the most sensitive section during Focus Group Discussions (FGD’s) involving adolescent girls and women, has always been on “menstruation.” In a particular slum in Pune (More Vasti, Sahakar Nagar Ward) a discussion with the girls which was supposed to last for an hour actually lasted for 3 hours as the girls didn’t want to let go of their opportunity for
talking and knowing about menstruation. For them it was the first time in their lives that somebody had even given them any forum to freely talk and deliberate about this topic. They had all kinds of questions: why does it happen, what to eat, what not to eat, how many times to change, what to do if I have an irregular cycle, what to do if I have recurrent stomach aches… As they heard answers to all of their questions, they could not stop giggling. The smiles on their faces remain etched in my memory still and will always remain. However, with women, a different aspect comes out: that of disposing the pad. As in most Community Toilet Blocks (CTBs), dumping of pads in the block, pads being tucked in the windows, and pads being thrown in the toilet pans is a very common sight. Very few women and girls actually practice proper disposal of pads (ideally where the pads are supposed to be wrapped in a newspaper and disposed in the garbage bin). Even those who have existing temporary enclosures or bathrooms used for urination known as “moris” in their houses have problems. During menstruation each time they urinate they have to clean it with phenyl as they fear any male member could end up seeing the “blood” stains. For many women and girls, changing the pads and dumping the same in the toilet block is the only option. They live in an 8’x8’ sized house with 5-7 members and there is no private enclosure. Some male or other member of the household could come in any moment. Changing their pad is probably the last thing which ever crosses their minds. This leads to deleterious impact on their hygiene and many suffer from urinary tract infections and rashes as they do not change their pads on time. But post an individual toilet and these problems just get eliminated on their own as for the first time these women and girls find privacy and “their own space” in this toilet that they can use it at their own convenience.