At eight years old, I sat on the cold tiles in my living room in Jaipur. Around me were my aunts, uncles, cousins, and my mom when I was exposed to it. It filled the television screen — almost looked like a sheet of cotton that was folded and cut into an airplane-like shape. Blue liquid gushed onto the sheet, and the sheet absorbed it just as fast. A girl a few years older than me smiled. That was the end of the ad. Was that an ad for a blue drink? Was that an ad for the crazy absorbent airplane-napkin hybrid?
“Mummy, woh kya hai?” I whispered to her.
“MOM. What is that?”
Everyone heard me.
My eyes met my uncle’s eyes who looked at me with a blank stare. My grandpa looked at my mom in disgust as my mom’s face turned red and her eyes stared me down with frustration.
I didn’t know what happened but I knew something was wrong. As the air in the room relaxed, my mom rose and whispered to me that I come into our bedroom.
Confused, I followed her, made eye contact with her tear stained eyes and was subjected to silent rage made in stifled tones through gound teeth.
“Older girls use it when they bleed from their private part. Don’t be such an idiot ever again,” she said.
Why didn’t anyone ever show me what a pad looked like? It would’ve saved my mom the embarrassment and me the guilt. The funny thing though is I still didn’t know it was a pad. In my eight-year-old brain, it was a bandaid for when girls’ private parts got a boo-boo.
Three years flew by and I had yet to hear someone mention the word pad to me. However, as puberty hit, my mom started to instill the idea of a period into me. She told me that “my time would come” and I would “become a woman” soon. Yet, when I got my period for the first time none of that at-home education affected me on that fateful summer day.
At 12 years old, I sat on the cold tiles of my Spanish classroom floor. I volunteered to participate in an activity thinking it would help distract me from the weird pain in my stomach. Cross-legged, I sat giggling with my other classmates on my floor when my teacher walked over and whispered to me to “look down.”
My eyes were drawn to the grey specks on the tiles when she whispers “look down” again. And then I see it. A ginormous brown stain splattered across my pants.
‘I probably sat on something weird… looks like chocolate,’ I nonchalantly said to my grimacing Spanish teacher.
‘Head down to the nurse Pranjal,’ she demanded.
When the nurse told me that I got my period and that I should call my mom, my brain went into panic mode. I couldn’t understand why though — my mom had mentioned that Aunt Flo would be visiting soon. I just didn’t expect her to bring so much pain and confusion.
My mom entered the nurse’s office, walked with me to the bathroom and showed me how to put on a pad. There it was. It looked familiar — but that was my first time seeing it in person and holding it in all of its white glory. This time, the funny thing was that I had held a condom in health class before and I knew how to apply one on a cucumber, but I had never held a pad before.
Facing the cruel effects of the stigma Indian culture places on menstruation and the lack of education, I was inspired to bring the fight for menstrual equity to my community.
Menstrual equity is the notion that menstruation should not inhibit someone’s productivity or limit their success. It involves fighting for period education across ages, genders, and schools, providing better access to period products, destigmatizing menstruation, and ensuring that the institutional discrimination menstruators face in the form of tampon taxes is no eradicated.
Barely anyone in my community knew what that meant, and by not knowing what all the sects of menstrual equity entailed, they were victims of improper period education.
The imagery of young Nepali girls forced to sleep outside in tents alone while menstruating, a practice called chaupadi, coupled with videos of young British boys revealing their lack of period knowledge aroused something in my peers. I witnessed girls share the stories of the first time they got their periods. There was even one boy that shared his sister’s period story and how he wished he had the knowledge to help her at the time. Seeing my peers latch onto a cause so personal and important to me bought eight-year-old me, 12-year-old me, and 17-year-old me so much joy and satisfaction. My peers didn’t know it at first, but menstrual inequity plagued their lives.
Here are some other ways they faced menstrual inequity:
- “Many of my female classmates are called out for going to the bathroom with a little bag for hygiene and they can’t do their business”
- “You can’t talk about your period openly because people might get grossed out”
- “Men don’t understand the topic well.”
- “Tampons are unaffordable”
- “A period stain or leak is the ultimate social suicide or is ‘disgusting’. Why should women have to apologize for their period? They shouldn’t.”
- “When boys said ew”
- “When customers ask for tampons at work, but our bathrooms don’t supply them”
- “When period pain and cramps aren’t seen as valid.”
My classmates didn’t know that they faced menstrual inequity until I exposed them to do it at a class workshop. I curated and moderated a panel of speakers to come to my high school to discuss menstrual inequity combined with other gender inequity issues. Among the panelists was Nadya Okamoto, founder of the organization Period. A combination of the rhetoric from the lesson plans and Nadya’s efforts and experiences lead to the creation of Herricks Period. Founded by a group of younger girls, my high school’s chapter of Period will ensure that the change I hoped to bring to my community will remain long-lasting and sustainable. Education, grassroots organizing, and a group of passionate people inspired others to find their voice and join the cause.
REAL and easy ways to fight for menstrual equity:
- Have a “Period. End of Sentence” Viewing Party
- Read Nadya Okamoto’s book, Period Power
- Talk about periods. Openly. Don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed for something natural.
- Entertain menstruation related questions/ask menstruation related questions
- Stop making PMS jokes. PMS Jokes imply that periods are a reason for someone to make fun of you.
- Destigmatize periods in your family. It’s hard but all it involves is talking about it openly with the males in your family. Once they’re accustomed to it, the females tend to follow suit.
- Ask your health teacher to do a pad/tampon demonstration
- Celebrate your period in small ways. Appreciate your fertility and good health.
- Share educational resources (like the one included below)
- Raise the awareness of others around you in whatever way that may be. For example, the girls from my high school are asking the entire student body to wear red on menstrual hygiene day. Be creative!