Eighth Grade Dream Turned Into Reality
In the eighth grade, my English class was assigned a “passion project” in which we had to give a presentation about an issue we are deeply interested in. That year, I had just become well-acquainted with the story of Malala Yousafzai, the #HeForShe initiative by the United Nations, and the feminist movement both in the United States and India. My Indian identity has always been a large part of my life, and by the time I was a teenager, I realized I wanted to give back to this aspect of my identity. Although India is the largest democracy in the world, it still needs many social improvements, especially in the area of female empowerment and women’s rights. That is why I decided to do my “passion project” on feminism and created a plan of how I would pursue this passion of mine through eradicating menstrual taboos, creating outreach programs in rural areas, and developing an NGO dedicated to aiding acid attack victims. This slide below is what I used in my presentation when talking about menstrual taboos in India during that presentation.
In the United States and mainstream western society in general, periods are considered taboo to speak about publicly, but there are really not any practices associated with them due to those taboos. In contrast, in India and in other eastern cultures, there are polarizing and specific practices associated with menstruation. For instance, within the Hindu culture, women are not allowed into places of prayer or sacred sites whilst menstruating. Some rural cultures even make women sleep outside of the house when they are on their period. While these practices might seem absurd to westerners, they actually stemmed from understandable reasons. In olden times, there were not any sanitary methods to accommodate for menstruation, hence the odor could have caused the stigma around periods to develop and prevented women from participating in daily activities during the duration of their menstrual cycle. However, these practices are now extremely outdated considering how many advancements have been
made in the area of feminine hygiene products. Women no longer have to use cloth to accommodate for their periods, as there are pads, tampons, and menstrual cups that can do that job in a safe and healthy manner.
The only problem is that these taboos still persist despite the drastic advancements society has made. In many modern Indian and Indian-American households, the practice of not being able to participate in religious activities is still present; however, the latter-mentioned practice of living separately only exists in certain rural areas. The reason why such practices still exist in rural areas can be attributed to period poverty. In India, the cost of sanitary pads is quite high, making it unappealing for many families to spend money on. Also, traditionally the men of the house go out to purchase household items, so it is “awkward” and “uncomfortable” for them to be asking storekeepers for sanitary pads since periods are such a taboo topic to begin with in Indian society. This is one of the main reasons why many women in rural India do not even know that menstrual products exist and continue to resort to the unhealthy method of using old pieces of cloth to accommodate for their period.
I guess many of my friends and I did that presentation because it was required of us and never intended on accomplishing any of the things we mentioned in that project even though the issues and areas covered were of interest to us. However, I find it both ironic and amazing that the plans I covered during my presentation actually came to fruition due to my involvement with She Supply during my junior year of high school. I came to know about She Supply through my wonderful DECA advisor, Kendra Day, who mentioned an upcoming volunteering event to package feminine-hygiene products in the church across from my school. I was both surprised and happy to hear that there was an organization working on an issue so close to my heart at a location so close to me. It was as if my life was coming to a full circle, as the aspirations I had conceived of in the eighth grade were finally becoming real. The family I have found through She Supply is extremely supportive, hard-working, and noble, and I am extremely grateful to have found such a loving group of people. They are all committed to one goal of eradicating period poverty within the Dallas/Fort Worth area and I am ever thankful for being able to contribute to this cause.
Growing up in the United States, I always knew period poverty was an issue in foreign countries; however, I did not realize how prevalent of an issue it was in my own country. Period products are expensive in the U.S., and it is frustrating that there is a lack of access to them even though menstruation is a natural bodily process that affects a good half of the population. In the state of Texas, items such as Viagra, medicated condoms, and cowboy boots – nonessential products – are exempt from a sales and use tax while menstrual hygiene products – goods that are necessary to the health and well-being of those who menstruate – have a sales and use tax. Being from a financially stable household, I guess these issues never really occurred to me, as I have never been in a situation where I could not afford to purchase menstrual products. However, thanks to my involvement with She Supply, I was able to educate myself on these issues within our country and think of ways to raise awareness on this issue. I am happy to say that I have raised awareness about this issue within my school, local community, and greater DECA community, and through some of my work, women are gaining increased access to feminine hygiene products.
In a way, my firsthand experiences with menstrual taboos and knowledge of period poverty through my visits to India propelled my drive for working with She Supply and putting in my best efforts to raise awareness about this issue within my various communities of practice. Although some may have no experiences related to menstrual poverty, it does not mean that it is not an issue that should bother them. Period poverty is a REAL issue that is apparent in both developed and developing countries. It affects mothers, sisters, and daughters. The only way to combat this issue is to speak up and raise awareness about it through whatever medium possible
-Nihkita, Junior Board Member