Revisiting taboos..

Perhaps I should begin with a disclaimer: This is a far departure from my usual posts about food, travel and adventures. So feel free to skip, if this subject grosses you out. But fellow sisters might want to go on and read it before making up their minds.

That said, today’s post is about menstruation. And before we get any more serious, perhaps you should watch this clip. Well, now that we have cracked up a bit, let’s get down to the brass tacks:

Why do I want to write about this today?

Well, I must make a confession. This has been on my mind for a while, but it did take some courage to write about this in a public forum. And while I had no qualms discussing it with my friends (of both sexes), I always noticed some squirming on part of both to speak about it aloud in public.

While menstruation is the reason why we as a human race are alive and propagating, it remains a hush-hush subject, spoken in whispers and code words. In India, this is perhaps more so, than else where. We are hesitant to talk about this, even to ask leave from our male bosses, if we are not up to working on period days. Not so in Taipei. A woman employee is allowed one menstrual leave per month. More so, it is openly asked and granted.

I grew up in a Brahmin household, where women would observe this three day seclusion or separation every month. Because I saw it happen around me, I took it for granted that this is something which was followed in every other household as well. It was only later that I realised that this was not the case. What did it mean to follow this ritual? Well, in my household, it meant a holiday, plain and simple. You got a holiday from your kitchen chores and cooking. It meant a few days of rest and relaxation. For my impish self, it meant ordering everyone around even for that glass of water, for which I would not have to lift one finger, and would be brought to me. It also meant someone would serve the food, and then clean the tables, and put everything away – all those chores that would befall on me at other times of the month. I grew up to enjoy it, not questioning it till much later. But I think the best part of this ritual meant a respite for my mother from all the household work. It meant much needed rest, and it also meant, everyone in the household contributed to the work – willingly or unwillingly. I have seen my father (and uncles when we were a joint family) coming back from work and standing in the kitchen to make our meals, washing the utensils and clothes, cleaning and sweeping. My brother was wont to follow, as he had such shining examples to emulate. It is only now that I realise, how when everyone talks about gender equality, this was happening in my house from the time I was a child.

Also, there was no shame in accepting this fact or declaring that you were menstruating. There was no hesitancy in discussing about it openly. It was only when I read about it being called ‘dirty’ and the like, that I rebelled and asked my parents why they forced this only on women. And surprisingly, it was my father who answered all my questions and rants patiently.

As I hit my 30s now, I realise how important it is for women to get these days of rest and recuperation – and it is only now, albeit slowly, the wisdom of these menstrual practices sinks in

In the recent years, there has be spate of discussions and debates revolving around this topic. Not only is it openly discussed in social fora now, there are many NGOs and activists like Sinu Joseph who are creating awareness, from the grassroots level. And it was from here, my journey of introspection, questions and some changes began.

I will urge you all to check out this blog, as it discusses many aspects of our monthly cycles:

(* As someone who believes in homeopathy, and from my own studies of the subject, please listen to your body, if you have pain during your period, seek out non-allopathic interventions from trusted doctors (popping pain killers is NOT OKAY), modify your diet to include magnesium, iron and calcium rich food, exercise and work with your body to attain a balance)

In relation to this topic, one link led to the other, and I landed on this page. It was this and countless other blogs that led me to pose some basic questions:

  • Assuming an average woman starts menstruating at the age of 15 and upto 50 years of age (just a rough figure) means she undergoes 35 years X 12 = 420 menstrual cycles – or at least 400 such cycles (give or take a few, with pregnancy or other health concerns reducing the number)
  • If she happens to use an average of 10 disposable pads per cycle (I know the number is more), that creates a non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste of 4000 pads per woman in her lifetime. Did you know that a single pad takes 500 years to decompose?
  • We have high awareness of what food we put into our mouths, and the dangers of plastic for storing, cooking or heating food in. But have we given a thought to the use of plastic or synthetic, every month, in our intimate areas for a better part of our lives?
  • There are growing menstrual and associated disorders that our generation has been facing (hypothyroidism, PCOS, infertility), thanks to the phthales, BPAs, parabens and other toxic chemicals that have become a part of our food chains and everyday lives (read: shampoos, conditioners, routine beauty and make up products which we indiscriminately use)

While personally I was never affected by period pain, or any seeming menstrual complaints, did I need to wait till I succumbed to it? These numbers were startling enough to be my wake up call for a change. I had already been using disposable products for almost 15+ years now, and had created my own share of pollution. Was there any way for me to think about the environment, and reduce my share of impact in the already burgeoning problem?

I grew up in an era, where we had easy access to disposable sanitary napkins and pads. In fact we knew of no other option available – at least I didn’t. My mother had mentioned the use of cloth pads, and I had thought this was grossly unhygienic. When I started composting, it opened my eyes to how even a single person or household, can, through sustainable practices minimize waste and contribute to protecting our environment. It was then that I decided to make the switch. My rationale was: even if one person decides to take simple steps to protect and cherish our environment, it is a big step for mankind. And charity, as always, begins at home. This seemed daunting, at first, because we were so used to the use-and-throw culture.

My story began in Hong Kong, after days of research. I found one obscure outlet selling cloth pads, and had to make a day’s journey one weekend in search of it. When I reached the store, I discovered that these cloth pads were made and marketed from India, by EcoFemme, a Pondicherry based social enterprise. Some more research later, I was delighted to find that they also ship abroad. My order arrived in 3 weeks time, and there has been no looking back since. Yes, initially it seemed daunting to to make this switch but I soon realised that it is simply a matter of habit. What helped was my own overwhelming sense of responsibility for the planet we live in, and the need to leave the world a little better.

So if you think you wish to turn to a more eco-friendly alternative, here are some ways to transition:

  • Read about it. Discuss it in your family. If you have the support of your parents/spouse/partner/children, it makes the transition easier.
  • Take one step at a time. You could still use disposable pads when out of home, and cloth ones when at home
  • Take care of your cloth pads by washing them with baking soda and vinegar, or a mild soap. Do not use harsh soap, as the residues may not be washed out. But handmade soap (which are without chemicals), castille soap are good alternatives. You can use essential oils (like lavender or tea-tree) which are disinfectants in themselves, and leave a pleasing smell. Yes, it may seem like a hassle at first, but it is just a matter of habit.
  • It is important sun-dry the pads, so there is no risk of any contamination, or infection. In India, it is not a problem. In other places, you may need to use dryers.
  • At first, the costs may seem higher, but it is a cheaper alternative in the long run. A properly cared for pad lasts at least 5 years.

Eco Femme

This topic is perhaps too big to be covered in this blog. I wish I had known about the options available to me much earlier, so this is an attempt to create awareness about choices available to us. Ladies (and gents, if you are reading this), re-think your choices – spread the word to your girl friends, mothers, sisters, daughters, fellow womankind.

I welcome your comments or queries, and will make every attempt (in my capacity) to answer them.

(Please note that I am neither associated nor paid for promoting EcoFemme, I write as a part of my own experience).

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