Priyanka Jain On Menstrual Hygiene, Period Poverty, And Stigma Around Menstruation
- IWB Post
- May 15, 2019
We’ve all had our moments when we get mood swings, feel bloated and the crippling pain, well, thanks to our monthly visitor, the period. No matter where we live or how different our lives are, we know the discomfort and shame that accompanies our menstrual cycle. You know, menstruation is still a ‘hush-hush’ topic in India. In many societies, cultural stigma and taboos associated with menstruation and menstrual hygiene, combined with an overall culture of silence around the topic, adversely affect the life of women and girls, especially their health.
Well, the notion of cleanliness that most of us hold is one that we are shown in Dettol and other detergent ads — clean hands and cockroach-free kitchens. Menstrual hygiene is simply ignored. One area where we clearly need to intensify our efforts is raising awareness is the importance of menstrual hygiene and changing negative social norms around the issue.
Often, letting careless comments go unchallenged is the reason why period stigma is still alive and kicking today. After all, the most effective way to challenge stigma is to talk about it. Priyanka Jain, through her YouTube channel Hygiene and You, is breaking the senseless taboos against menstruation and menstrual hygiene.
Along with her husband, Pranav Jain, Priyanka started Hygiene and You, a website dedicated to eco-friendly period products. In 2017, taking it a step further, they launched their own range of products under the label SochGreen. They manufacture cloth pads, labia pads, period panties, and menstrual cup.
In a recent chat with IWB, she discussed negligence towards menstrual hygiene, effects of the same on a women’s mind and body, and how awareness and society’s support can help a woman glide through the phase.
Here are the excerpts:
Your husband has been a major part in forming Hygiene and You. How did the first conversation about this idea happen? Later on, in what ways has he contributed to it?
In fact, he is the one who started it. We were just sitting for a coffee and talking about our work. He was doing the trading work and I was into interior designing. Other than our regular jobs, both of us wanted to do something meaningful. So we pondered upon this thought. Like, I have always wanted to do something environment-friendly. He pointed out that you use menstrual cups, why don’t you tell others about it. So we came down with this idea that we should promote sustainable menstruation.
Where most men don’t approve of this, he has been really supportive and encouraged me to spread the word about menstrual hygiene. After that, we worked on this thought together; I took sessions, talked to people, explaining the products. He took the responsibility of stocks and vendor management.
Menstruation is still a taboo in our country. When did you come to know about periods and how well was it explained?
With my experience of talking with women, very few actually knew about menstruation. Even in my case, I was 11 years old, woke up and saw blood, I freaked out. I thought I was going to die. My mother came and she explained that you’re not going to die. This is normal. You’re a grown up now, you’ll get periods. But somewhere, I thought, I did something wrong and couldn’t even discuss with other friends.
Maybe until there was a session in our school, where they explained periods and distributed sanitary napkins, at that time I opened up and got to know that other girls are talking about it. I felt like I can also talk to my friends about it.
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To spread awareness about menstruation, you’ve reached out to the masses. What were the barriers you faced and what was your vision to overcome it?
Basically, when we started Hygiene and You, we focused on sustainable menstrual products. Over time, I realised that there is a lot of stigma around menstruation. I could relate it to the time when I got periods and how I took it in a negative way. I understood that the need of the hour was to remove shame. So, in my sessions now I try to include more information about women’s reproductive health and menstruation, before providing them information about eco-friendly period products like menstrual cups and cloth pads.
The reasons behind the negative response were – taboo around menstruation and second was people weren’t concerned about sustainable living. These two were my big challenges and I felt like girls need to know about periods, especially before they get it. So, they don’t have an experience like I had. Later on, that became my focus. I should try to normalise menstruation and promote natural and sustainable living.
To spread awareness, we started doing sessions and covering these two points. Talking to people and telling them how normal it is. And I talked to the older age group, telling them that their daughters should understand that menstruation is normal. We are not helping them if our elders are enforcing restrictions during menstruation.
Starting from scratch, what were the milestones achieved through your YouTube channel, Hygiene and You?
The idea of starting a YouTube channel never came to my mind. I joined a Facebook group and started my own Facebook group. It was all about sustainable menstrual products. Since I was the oldest user of menstrual cups, a lot of people used to ask me a million questions about it. So, to provide a quick guide, I started a blog on the Hygiene and You website.
Later on, I got suggestions and requests to use an image or video to support my blog. I started my YouTube channel, Hygiene and You. I was showered with more suggestions like, use Hindi or any other language. So, I started a Hindi channel as well. To my surprise, the Hindi channel grew a lot faster. The English channel has 25,000 subscribers whereas Hindi channel has 118,896 subscribers. And when I crossed 100,000 it was a very big moment for me. Now I’ve two websites, Hygiene and You and Sochgreen. Sochgreen is our brand of natural products. So, these were some of the milestones achieved.
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What are your experiences of menstruation in different cultures across the country, and do you think this has an impact on the issue of menstrual hygiene?
There are very few cultures that take periods as something positive or even celebrate when a girl gets her first period. But the majority takes it in a negative way. They consider it dirty and impure. It becomes a problem when a girl is told that she is impure, she’d start feeling negative about it. When she won’t be able to share things, how will she get an idea of what it actually is? So, menstrual hygiene is something which girls should know about. Cultural taboo makes a very big difference and it does have a huge impact on menstrual hygiene.
How can the school curriculum introduce effective ways to teach about menstruation?
First of all, we need to make menstruation gender-inclusive. Because it is. We need to stop considering menstruation as a woman’s thing. If women didn’t bleed, men won’t exist. Also, individually, school curriculum should conduct sessions for both the genders about menstruation. They should be explained that both boys and girls hit puberty and these changes happen in their bodies. So, when we explain girls about menstruation, they should also be told that boys get changes too. Or, the boys should be told about the changes in their body and also about menstruation.
So, next time, if a girl gets a stain on her skirt, boys won’t make fun of it. They should know what she’s going through and they should be helpful.
An issue of menstrual poverty can be observed across the country, like, lack of awareness about menstruation, unavailability of sanitary pads to rural women and the effects of menstrual waste on the environment. How can we give equal importance to these issues? How can government and related agencies contribute to it?
For me, menstrual poverty means that people aren’t even aware about menstrual hygiene. The concern around menstruation is divided into many aspects – taking care of the environment, spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene and providing products to every woman out there. But in most cases, people aren’t even aware that they need to use a hygienic product and what is that product. If they don’t know then how are they going to use it? So, that awareness is really important.
They need to get familiar with the variety of products available for them, better than sanitary pads and better for the environment. Sanitary pads take around 500-800 years to decompose. Awareness about disposable period products should be raised. Also, along with awareness, people believe many myths around periods. Every one of us is familiar with the restrictions during periods that don’t touch the pickle, don’t enter into puja ghar, etc, I mean, there are endless things. People believe in some of them and don’t believe in some. We need to clear these myths.
The government, NGOs or other agencies working in this field should really focus on spreading awareness. They can take sessions or introduce YouTube videos, making them in regional languages about menstrual hygiene. We can talk about the availability of different types of products. We can explain that using a cloth during periods isn’t wrong. It’s just that you’ve to maintain it properly. The government should also distribute these products.