On Pads and other things

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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.

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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.)

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5 thoughts on “On Pads and other things

  1. Was it about it causing a furore or that students may be unprepared for questions regarding the same during the interview? Either way, I think the Gender Circle was quite fair and correct in making that concession to postpone the initiative till after the recruitment process. That said, I don’t get why people would have a problem with this movement. Seems pretty harmless and equally important to me.

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  2. But shouldn’t people already know about this? Given the kind of steam it’s gathered, wouldn’t it be considered general knowledge?

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  3. The best alternative to smuggling pads out of class into bathrooms could be that the sanitary napkin dispensers should be installed inside all the girls toilets.
    And since menstruating is like peeing(as u said) these pads must be available for free to people like water and soap in the toilets. I think u must look forward to push for this, so that girls don’t have to pay for pads.
    And my utilitarian argument against sticking so many pads around in the campus is that, The pads are manufactured for a particular purpose. But look at their fate they have ended up being stuck on walls. These poor pads couldn’t serve the purpose for which they were made. And I wonder as to how many poor and needy women would have been benefited had these pads been donated to them.
    PS: U can stick a pad shaped paper instead.

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  4. Sanitary napkin vending machines are already installed outside the bathrooms. While they still charge money, the cost is quite low: three pads for 10 rupees (I think), which is far lower than what you would get if you went to the market looking for pads. There are, however, two problems with this:
    1. People have differing pad preferences. There are different sizes and types. While I’m glad that there are sanitary napkin vending machines in college, I would personally not use them because I don’t like that particular kind of pad. Given that it’s impossible to provide for every single kind of pad, I don’t see the point of having free pad dispensers.
    2. This kind of defeats the purpose of the argument. The problem isn’t that it’s difficult to smuggle pads out of classrooms – it’s actually fairly easy, and girls have been doing it for decades. The problem is with the fact that people feel like they have to hide the pads that they take to the bathroom. Why should you have to treat a pad like it’s a shameful thing? Why can’t you just hold one in your hand and walk out?

    And while I understand the utilitarian argument, I’d just like to point out that there are a number of other objects which are “misused” in order to prove a point, and there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that. If people can play with eggs during Holi, then using pads in order to help bring about awareness isn’t necessarily wrong. Furthermore, a paper cutout of a pad doesn’t quite have the same emphasis as an actual pad. A few people mentioned yesterday that they’d never seen a real pad before. Pads, thus, can be used for the purposes of demonstration as well as for their intended purpose.

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  5. Pingback: Gender Circle Lecture Series: Dr. Rukmini Sen | Glasnost

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