On Tuesday morning, campus woke up to find itself covered in pads. They were everywhere: inside the Acad Block, near the Library, stuck on the huge glass windows of the cafeteria. Most of them had a splash of red (meant to indicate blood) and a strong, feminist message written on them.
The Pads Against Sexism movement originally began in Germany, when a nineteen year old student, Elona Kastrati, began to put up pads in her town in order to combat some of the stigma that surrounds feminine hygiene products. Slowly, the movement has mushroomed: in India, students of Jamia Millia Islamia, JNU, and Jadavpur University have begun to put up pads all across their campus, all with powerful messages emblazoned on them. The pads are meant to provoke thought: they challenge traditional conceptions of shame and disgust perpetuated by patriarchy, of the many notions that surround the simple bodily act of menstruating, in India and the world. In India, especially, where talk of menstruation is almost taboo, the students argued that it was important for there to be public debate on the matter.
The movement has not been without its problems. The students who began the campaign in Jamia were recently served a show-cause notice by the University, and the pads that they put up were torn down at the orders of the administration. They’ve been criticized by students and faculty alike.The students have since released a public statement that explains their reasons: the traditional discrimination against a menstruating woman, the recent spate of attacks against women, and the administration’s apathy towards the whole issue.
Why is it important to talk about pads? Precisely because half the world’s population menstruates, and yet there seems to be absolutely no discussion on the matter. Menstruating is as natural an act as peeing, but the inexplicable stigma surrounding the issue has ensured that it is almost never mentioned in public. Schools rarely teach their students about menstrual health. The government-mandated curriculum quickly explains the bare essentials of menstruation, and then talks about how women need to stay “clean” during this period without ever mentioning how. There is little to no practical training for girls on how they are supposed to use pads or tampons.
Several households in India continue to subscribe to the view that a woman is impure during her “time of the month”. Women are forbidden to enter temples, they cannot cook food, and in rural areas, they sometimes have to live outside their homes – and all for the fault of menstruating! Even in urban settings, pads are wrapped in black plastic when being sold. Advertisements about pads show periwinkle blue liquid staining the cotton instead of displaying blood or, indeed, something that even looks close to blood. Photos of period stains on social media websites are taken down for no other reason than the fact that menstrual blood is visible.
Half of this world’s population bleeds on a monthly basis. Should there not be more discussion and general awareness about this topic? Why should the word “menstruation” be such a taboo that we substitute it with “period” or with other euphemisms? (I’m looking at you, Aunty Red). Why, indeed, should the word “period” be substituted with the phrase “I’m down”? Why should the sanitary napkin dispensers in our college have absolutely nothing on them that indicates their function? Why should we have to smuggle pads out of class into bathrooms like we’re carrying sachets of heroin?
The best thing that the pads have done is to start a conversation, even if that conversation is restricted to hostel rooms. There are questions that must be addressed and issues that must be discussed.
However, it is clear that not everyone agrees. In the morning, the pads were everywhere. By late afternoon, they were gone – the Gender Circle had removed them. Sources confirm that this was at the request of the third- and fourth-year RCCs, purportedly because it would have caused a furore amongst the recruiters who will shortly be visiting campus.
(The Gender Circle has currently refused to comment.)