Menstrual education in India has always been a topic to be discussed behind closed doors, and with quiet voices. I remember the first time in 5th Grade when our teachers had taken all the girls into one dark AV room all of a sudden. We were all enthusiastic about missing a class, but little did we know what we would discover about our bodies. Many of my classmates were disgusted, many confused. I was amongst those who were confused. In spite of having a sibling, I had never really heard about Periods.
We couldn't ask any questions and were quickly dismissed. However this would be the first of many menstrual education classes we had. Instead of learning about our bodies it became more about skipping classes and even though we got older we were still taught what we already knew. Everytime we would be left with more and more questions and our inquisitive minds would stumble upon the most bizzare facts on the internet. Times have changed, but our approach towards menstrual education hasn't.
It's time we bring in a novel approach.
Young girls shouldn't be confused about their bodies, they should learn how to care for them. Oftentimes these girls view their teachers as authority figures and aren't able to ask them questions about this topic, due to the stigma surrounding it. The teachers try their level best to start a conversation but girls are too embarrassed to ask questions to them.
On the other hand, school girls make strong female friendships and find themselves looking up to their seniors. They may even be more receptive and open with their seniors.
Menstruation is not disgusting, it's not unholy and it's certainly not a disease. The more we continue to talk about it secretively, the more we push this toxic narrative. Many times when girls have period accidents at school we get laughed at. Which is why it's equally important to be vocal rather than be secretive about this topic. It's vital that these conversations include boys of that age too, so they understand what is going on too. Grown men often have many absurd misconceptions about menstruation, which causes them to act indifferent, and become ignorant. Nevertheless, if they are told from their teenage years what this is and why is not disgusting, they will grow up to support women and understand them better.
On the contrary it is important that girls at a young age are taught that men have struggles too and to not equate masculinity to a lack of emotions.
I propose a system in which girls in the higher grades present these topics. Older girls will have more experience, and even if they are late bloomers they can still present the topic in a way that breaks the stigma surrounding it. During these classes, girls aren't told about how to deal with PMS, the irregularities that are perfectly normal, and the irregularities that they should notify a trusted adult about. More often than not, young girls don't know how to dispose of menstrual products appropriately, which leads to unhygienic conditions in the bathrooms.
Rather than scolding them and ridiculing them, and saying that they should learn this topic at home, menstrual hygiene should be an essential topic that must be discussed at length.
Not only this, but the alternative methods of catching blood should also be mentioned to young girls. Sustainability is an important conversation especially since menstrual products generate tons of waste. Women often learn about these products later and are confused by them. Nonetheless if these products are introduced during puberty it'll reduce waste generation and make sure that girls are comfortable with wearing them. In many households, mothers are skeptical about these alternative methods but if girls know what these are and learn about them from school, parents will be comfortable with girls using them too.
In my opinion, the frequency with which these classes are taken is fine, but the information should get more diverse as young girls get older.
Topics like consent, gender identity and expression should also be introduced, although this should be in sex education classes with both girls and boys. These topics will not only stimulate much needed conversation between peers, it'll reduce the bullying and shame surrounding them.
Another benefit of this system is that young boys will be able to ask questions and become curious about these topics. Instead of being pushed away, or silenced or even mocked, their questions will definitely be answered.
When young girls are aware about their bodies, they become empowered to deal with the challenges they may face. When older girls learn how to empower they too understand the importance of supporting other women and uplifting them.
Content by: Triya Ghosh
Graphics by: Ananya Choudhury