Talking about periods in public, or even in front of the male members of the family is a taboo in India. Forget the excruciating pain, even if you end up leaving a tiny speck of red on the toilet seat, or the water in the bowl pink, girl, oh girl are you in trouble!
Amidst all these hushed discussions and carrying pads in notebooks from classrooms to the washroom, there has never been an instance where a girl would be able to talk about periods openly. Today, the taboo of periods and talking about them might not be as high as it may have been a decade ago, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to opening up to newer options to maintain menstrual hygiene or even discussing them.
Misconceptions dwell in every woman’s mind when it comes to using something new. Take tampons for example, young women will instinctively cringe or gasp in horror if you ever suggest a tampon to them. ‘Andar ghus gaya toh?’, ‘Infection lag gaya toh?’, ‘Virgins use kar sakte hain tampons?’ are the standard Indian woman responses. These questions are just doubts and nothing more. Tampons may be a more comfortable option than regular sanitary pads, but they’re equally harmful to the environment.
Then there are menstrual cups that have made a quiet entry in India’s menstrual hygiene market. It has been receiving a positive response, but doubts and misconceptions remain in the mind sof millions of women, even as thousands have given it a try. India’s annual menstrual waste is estimated to be 1,13,000 tonnes. More than 12 crore women in India use disposable sanitary napkins.
What would happen if even half the number of these women would switch to menstrual cups? We spoke to a few women who have tried menstrual cups, and agreed to speak to us on condition of anonymity.
First off, menstrual cups are tiny cups made of silicone to collect the blood discharged by the body. 30 year old Neha, a user of menstrual cup said that her cousin who lives in the US introduced her to the cups about six to seven years ago. “This has been a revelation. I am glad I tried it on early when my cousin introduced me to it. The funny thing that happened when I first tried it on was I did not know how it would fit inside, so I sat for two hours in the bathroom while my mother and cousin kept urging me to try it on. There was also this entire notion in the mind that virgins should not insert anything inside of their bodies. But then I went ahead anyway and now that is just a story we laugh at in our home,” she said.
The menstrual cups are super economic as they last for six to seven years when maintained properly. Another user of menstrual cups who we spoke to is Heena. The 19 year old is a student and has been using cups for a year now. She started because of the rashes she would get with the sanitary napkins. “Initially I did not even know what to do with the cup. I ordered it online when my parents were out of town for a few days. I saw several videos on YouTube and learnt it because all my friends were too scared to try it, so they would never tell me what it is like. To my surprise, there was no leakage, no feeling dirty or sticky and no infections. When I told my mother, she was initially apprehensive about it but later on jumped on board and started using one too. There has been a downside to this though. My pocket money has been reduced as my mom knows I might go use that money to bunk class!” Heena said.
For several women, the economic factor has been a plus. For Anjali Singh, it was not about the economy. “ I tried the cup because of its novelty factor. However, trying it on was a major task. I squatted for about half an hour trying to insert the cup, as instructed by both my doctor and the internet. But it ended up only injuring me down there. When I tried putting in the cup, the silicone would snap back and one time it hurt me down there like a slap. I managed to insert it and stay clean for the next few hours. Over few months’s time it became easier and now I could not have been more comfortable,” she said.
The first commercially available version of menstrual cup started selling from 1937. The idea of a menstrual cup is to provide an economical reusable product that would be safe and also environment friendly. India being one of the most populated countries in the world also produces that high an amount of waste. More and more women are accepting the cups in their menstrual hygiene routine but it will take quite a long time for the taboos and misconceptions associated with it to decline completely.