28th May was Menstrual Hygiene day. All the conversations that were happening around the day about the stigma associated with menstruation and menstrual hygiene inspired me to write this blog post and share my life experiences.
Way back in school, one day one of my classmates said, “Yesterday, my uncle asked my Mamma, what Kotex is while watching the advertisement on television.” I was in standard seven when my friend had this conversation with me. After listening to her story, I myself asked her about Kotex. I asked, “What is it, do you know?” She replied, “Yes. Don’t you know? It is a sanitary pad used during menstrual days.”
Before this conversation, my sister’s, mother, grandmother and I used pads made of old waste clothes when we were menstruating. We washed these cloth pads and reused it every month.
From the day of this discussion, I started saving my pocket money to buy Kotex. I was curious to know if there really was such a thing. I had no clue because the women around me always said that it’s a hidden matter and we are not supposed to discuss it openly in front of men. After four days, I managed to save twenty rupees to buy Kotex. But, I could not access it. Why? Because I did not find a woman at the chemist shop. I told my friend about the problem. She told me that it was also available in our school stationary shop.
We decided to go to the stationary shop during recess. We were desperately waiting for the recess. As the bell rang, we rushed towards the shop. There was a huge crowd of boys and girls. We waited in a corner as we couldn’t ask for it out loud. The recess got over. Once people left the shop, we asked aunty for it. Meanwhile, a teacher was on the round and he saw us in the shop after lunch. He forced us to go to class. We replied, “Sir, we are buying something.” He said, “Take it in front of me and go fast.” The three of us (me, my friend and aunty) were stuck. After a while, the shopkeeper aunty requested him to go and promised him that she will send us back in a second.
Finally, I got it! However, I had another challenge in front of me. I didn’t know how to use it and I didn’t even want to ask my friend anymore. Almost six months later, I saw the pad carefully in light, when nobody was around at home and realized that the sticky part was at the back of the pad. So far, I used to just put it on my underwear. Now I felt better during my period. I was finally free from itchiness and wetness. I underwent a long journey to reach this point. I shared this knowledge with my sisters. All three of us stopped using cloth pads and started saving money to buy Kotex.
When my mother came to know about this, she shouted at us and said that this was a wastage of money. For her, clothes were the best. After all, all women in her family and neighborhood used clothes. One day, during monsoon season, she had no dry clothes, as they would always be out for drying in a corner on the roof. The corner was wet because of the rain. She asked me for the napkins that I used. Now it was my turn to tell my mom about using sanitary napkins and I did so with great enthusiasm and eagerness. After that, she also started using it. The best part was that now we got money to buy it and didn’t have to buy them using our pocket money.
The journey did not end here. From the age of 13 to the age of 26, it was always me, who would buy sanitary napkins, undergarments, for myself and the women in my family. They still experience shame in discussing it openly. Just the day before, I went at 11 pm to hand over a pad to my mother who lives in the next block in the same locality where I live. There is long way left for this journey to be complete, to reach a point where there is no stigma attached to menstruation and products like sanitary napkins.