Guest post by Astha Savyasachi
Humankind, right in the beginning, came face to face with menstruation. So, by now we as a society should have learnt to deal with it. But as we all know that it remains a problem for most of us. When we say this we don’t deny that we have successfully made it less of discomfort for a section of the people.
It should not lead us to forget we are still far behind as a society to realize that the female body deserves and requires medical assistance to sustain the bodily changes [mostly hormonal] and mineral losses during the entire menstrual cycle. The politicians thumping their chests and taking oaths to protect Bharat Mata are yet to realize that the existing and breathing women also are entitled to human rights and need to be paid a lot more attention than the mere national personification of India [that too notinclusive of everyone in the geographical boundaries of India] in the image of a woman that is Bharat Mata . The irony is that the goddesses enjoy privileges and the existent women are devoid of even basic rights.
Since the existent people have reproductive systems to keep the human race alive, those systems need medical attention too. Also because the onus of carrying forward the most advanced race lies on the humans themselves and not the gods and goddesses. So, our rights — human rights need due importance because we are a human race (not a race of supernatural gods and goddesses).
The beautiful ballad of human rights also has a very importance stanza of sexual and reproductive rights without which the story and hence the liberation of the entire thuman race will stand incomplete. For our society to achieve sexual and reproductive rights, we must understand that these
rights also include menstrual rights. During the entire menstrual cycle, women [Here, we should NOT forget that not only women but trans, intersex, and non-binary people also undergo menstruation ] require different types of medical help.
All the people of menstruating age should be provided sanitary pads and mineral supplements (especially iron and calcium). Access to sanitary pads is a basic right of every menstruating individual. If the government takes on the responsibility to produce sanitary napkins on a large scale, then it can produce biodegradable sanitary pads. All the rural, urban and semi-urban areas should be well- equipped with sanitary pads, vending machines for easy access to biodegradable sanitary napkins. These machines can be attached to the street light poles of the areas (wherever present).Or, we can have small stalls at the corner of the streets. Also, a woman can be employed by the government as to look after this facility.[ This can also contribute a very little tobring down unemployment in women.]
An average Indian woman spends around Rs. 300 per month in buying sanitary pads or tampons. Thus the annual expense of sanitary products becomes Rs 3600 (excluding the expenses of mineral supplements).
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) report of 2017 revealed that only 58 percent of women ( from the age of 15-24 ) in India were able to use hygienic sanitary products. The remaining 42 percent resort to shocking alternatives like unsanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand. As a result, the incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) is 70% more common among these women.
Keeping the enormity of the problem in mind, if the government is unable to provide free sanitary napkins, then it should provide a menstrual allowance to at least the women belonging to the underprivileged sections of the society.
The fabric of Menstrual rights has to be woven with two very important threads. One,Menstrual allowance. Two, Menstrual leave. These threads have to be closely and evenly knit without any holes so that this fabric covers the entire menstruating Population.
Menstrual Leave is a medical necessity just as maternity leave. The reasons are purely medical. The Global Journal of Health Science conducted research on the condition of Dysmenorrhea in women. It has found Dysmenorrhea to be the most common gynecological problem among females and it is defined as cramping pain in the lower abdomen occurring just before or during menstruation. The study was conducted on 1000 healthy females in the age bracket of 11-28 years. The sample was taken from varied socio-economic sections of society. It included women from different types of families, different family sizes, different religions, different family histories.
The study revealed that around 70.2 percent of women suffer from Dysmenorrhea and related symptoms during periods. And 68.3 percent suffer from these issues every month. More than half of the women have to resort to absenteeism from work or school/college because of menstrual pain/symptoms. Most of the time, women have to take unpaid leave because the health condition during periods severely affects their daily routine activities including office work. And one-fourth of the women have to take analgesics(painkillers) to cope up with such health conditions.
In a grave situation like this, there is a serious need to introduce the provision of paid menstrual leave for at least 2 days per month in all the institutions and companies across the country, be it public or private [even unorganized]. [The biases and the suffering women working in the unorganized sectors go through is a serious topic to be discussed separately .] Also the women managing homes and doing unpaid labor whole of their lives deserve menstrual leave. Menstrual leave is a medical necessity which will make the working spaces friendlier and the working life easier for women.
Kerala in India was the first place in the world where the idea of menstrual leave was first implemented. An all-girls school in Kerala was first recorded to grant its students a menstrual leave in the year 1912. Then, in the early 20th century (the 1920s) the Japanese labor unions demanded menstrual leave (seiri kyuka) for their female workers. It pushed the Japanese Labor Standards in 1947 to bring about a law allowing menstruating women to take paid leave. Only very few countries in the world currently have this provision for their women employees, let alone the other genders falling in the mensturating population.
The governments and the society which are both highly patriarchal in their outlook need to look at this issue urgently . They should be reminded that society is also made of humans other than men. Other genders are as much a part of this world, this country, and this society. Sweeping them aside and turning a blind eye to their issues is not going to help. For the world to keep breathing, all the genders will have to be given their say, their rights, and their freedom.
Astha is a student of mass communication and is a student activist