Padman has made it easier and in vogue for us to talk about menstruation. A subject until neglected, concealed, and bewailed suddenly becomes the centerstage of our social conversation. A slew of activities is happening, from the cast and crew opinionating on a public forum, sharing their distressful personal experiences, to the free distribution of sanitary pads in schools, slums and rural pockets. So far so good. Padman, is about a real-life problem of uncomfortable and unhygienic access to sanitary napkin in rural villages and inventing a low-cost solution to address the same. In a remote corner of Coimbatore, A. Muruganantham, dreamt of it and realized it despite his limited means and massive social banishment.
Inspiring indeed, isn’t it? Let us now look at periods in an urban context.
Some facts will build up the case –
- Rural to urban migration has gone up from 35.5% during 1991-2001 to 44.2% during 2001-11. Of total women migrants, 3.75% have migrated for education, employment, and business. *
- In 2015, India produced 6.3 mn graduates and 1.4 mn post graduates, half of which were women. *
- Share of female employment in manufacturing and services have grown by 63% and 71% from 2009-10 to 2011-12*
The statistics indicate that more and more women in urban areas are stepping out of homes to work and get educated. As someone who has been a part of this growth both as a student and a worker, and as someone who has worked with hundreds of females in her decade long career, I could clearly experience the lack of gendered ergonomics at workplace and institutions.
Periods remained one of them, where more effort and awareness was required to facilitate a safe and hygienic space for women. A period is a recurring, biological event that happens across the prime of a female (10-48 years).
Considering standard work rhythm of a month, twelve months a year, and thirty-five odd years of service, a female, in her lifetime is potentially exposed to four hundred plus periods at her office.
The data would not seem so relatable, if I had not experienced it first-hand. There were occasions when I menstruated in the middle of office routine with no immediate access to sanitary napkin. In all the hustle bustle and frenzy of life, one can lose track of their date. The quickest alternative was asking colleagues for pads in a hushed voice (since male staff sat on adjacent desks). I was lucky when someone had it and hapless when no one had. In that case I had to run to the market to buy a packet. The added stress of stepping out of office, leaving important work in between (periods do not time with lunch breaks) and the liquid wetting the underclothes was immeasurable and yet no one in the organization thought about it? I wondered.
It was then, I decided to do something about it and not just remain mum. To ascertain the actual impact, I did in-depth surveys of hundreds of females in my personal, professional, and social network. Not everyone was open to talk about it, considering the taboo nature of the subject but the few (113) who did, ripped their hearts out. The results of survey indicated that –
64% females work in organizations that do not provide sanitary napkin access in their premises. 59.8% females menstruated while being in the office and did not have immediate access to napkins, of this 61% asked from colleagues and a distressing 27% of females went out in the market to buy sanitary napkin, while being period unprotected.
Some females shared bad-experiences that point towards acute lack of period management at workplace.
Period started early while doing a village visit / field work. Had to work in excruciating pain but and then drive back on bumpy roads for hours to get back to the hotel. As I had the flexibility to wrap up sooner, but these are the challenges one sign up for when working on the field.
I went to a mall with my daughter and she got her periods. I had to step out and buy a pack of sanitary napkins as it was not available at the Mall.
One of my friends suddenly required a sanitary pad while at work but then none of us had a spare pad at that time. It was a serious trouble for her as she had to go to the market nearby and purchase one.
Due to hormonal changes in these days, I had a discussion with my senior that converted into a conflict eventually. I keep on telling him, I am not mentally and physically fit to do the given task on that day. He was not convinced with that justification that day and took a strict action against me. Later, when things get sorted, he said sorry to me but until then damage had already done.
The added hassle of sanitary napkin arrangement from uncredited sources takes up crucial productive time and impacts both the morale and health of a female.
The situation is starker in some regional government schools. Teacher disclose that they do not get disposals to discard soiled napkins. Hence, have no option left other than put one napkin on the other, in their underclothes.
I perceive period not as a challenge but a time to deal with care. It is just another aspect of the normal physiological function and is not an illness. Like workplaces evolved to keep in tandem with increasing job-related needs (comfortable chairs with head stand to lessen neck pain, screens on laptop to prevent eye damage), periods too are one such aspect, where workplaces need to evolve.
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