In India, menstrual rights are considered a myth, and anyone who ventures to bust it with facts about the biological process enters a murky arena of shame, taboos, superstitions, blindly followed rituals but most importantly an arena that severely lacks any constitutional validity.
One of the best examples to demonstrate the lack of a rights-based approach in menstrual health is the entry of womxn to Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Although the Supreme Court of India intervened and made a landmark ruling in September 2018 — any exception placed on womxn because of biological differences violates the Constitution..the ban violates the right to equality under Article 14, and freedom of religion under Article 25 -womxn are still condemned to keep their distance from this place of worship.
What are your rights, as a citizen, when you are discriminated against by virtue of being a person who menstruates?
#STOPPeriodPenalty is a campaign that seeks to answer this question. To do so effectively, we’ve set out to:
- Document various kinds of menstrual discrimination at different social setups — Domestic, Workplace, and public spaces and the nebulous spaces
- Analyze the data with legal input — Screen the patterns that might arise, gather and collate pre-existing provision, propose ways to address the concern
- Raise awareness on the scale of menstrual discrimination and exclusion and collaborate with government stakeholders (State Legal Services Authority and Central Legal Services Authority)
- Build a Literacy Toolkit that can help a menstruator refer to provisions enshrined within our constitution and negotiate for rights.
Below, we have highlighted some of the hard-hitting instances of menstrual exclusion and discrimination reported in the media. And on how you can contribute to the campaign. However, we need to pause to reflect on the gravity of the atrocities meted out to menstruating persons and look at these instances as negligence, intentional mistreatment, and incognizant of a womxn’s choice to go through the monthly labor, to reproduce, as invisible reproductive labor whether one may choose to exercise the same or not.
It is a penalty, much like the motherhood penalty where mothers encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, perceived competence, and benefits relative to childless womxn. Menstruating persons are faced with #PeriodPenalty where by virtue of one menstruating they endure systemic discrimination in the domestic and professional spaces.
In Tamil Nadu, womxn textile workers were routinely given pills to work through their period pain so that the production does not get affected. This is a direct violation of the labor laws and has lead to serious side effects in these womxn.
The lack of a menstrual policy allowed for these factories to make a choice — Cut in wages for the days cannot work or pills to ease the pain and avail the pay.
Missing wages were not an option for womxn with loans and a family to take care of. So they would take the pill, unaware of the side effects — irregular periods, depression and anxiety, to urinary tract infections, fibroids, and miscarriages.
This is Sudha, a 17year old textile factory worker’s account as reported by The Scroll: “Half my salary of Rs 6,000 rupees would go in paying off the loan and a big amount on my trips to the doctor,” she said. “It became a cycle I was not able to break. And even though my health became worse, I needed to keep working to pay the bills.”
The story of the sugarcane workers of Beed, Maharashtra, was pivotal to bringing the conversations around menstrual discrimination and the lack of menstrual policies to the mainstream discourse.
Surgical operations were done on womxn sugar workers in Beed to remove their womb. For the same reasons, textile workers in TN were given the pills — Maintaining production per day.
While these are examples of cruel treatment to menstruating bodies in the workplace, the educational institutions have their own ways to discriminate as well.
68 girls college girls were asked to remove their underwear to check if they were menstruating after a used sanitary pad was found in the garden outside the hostel. The hostel also had backward rules such as — menstruating females are not allowed to enter the temple and kitchen. They cannot stay inside the hostel room but in the basement area. They cannot socialize and have to sit on the last benches in the classroom during their periods. They cannot even touch other students.
Apart from these institutional discriminations, menstruating persons face exclusion at home. This is no news and is widely experienced and documented. Menstruating womxn are not allowed to touch others, enter the kitchen, prayer room, touch communal objects, participate in social gatherings, or enter temples. Womxn in Nepal, for example, face forty restrictions when they menstruate!
We need menstrual equity to progress as individuals and as a society.
We need to recognize, negotiate, and penalize such instances that are widely documented and especially address the ones that are not. As menstruation is a taboo subject there is very little research or any data available in this area. Most of the data we have on issues related to menstruation is anecdotal. However, we hope to have demonstrated some evidence to encourage the stakeholders — government, corporations, civil society — to establish a redressal mechanism. A set of interventions.
How Can You Help?
Your support is essential to reach the campaign’s end goal. You can participate by filling out this survey, where we try to understand you, what kind of menstrual discrimination or violence or mistreatment you have experienced or seen someone being subject to, we want to know what you think can be done to address this concern. A lot needs to be done and we can only do this together! Share this article and the survey link within your network and encourage your loved ones to share their anecdotes.