Women’s Health Festival Brought Up Period Politics To The Front
Despite the increasing positivity around menstruation and breaking of taboos around various other diseases that perennially affect women like cervical cancer, breast cancer etc, women’s health is yet to become a pressing matter of concern for our country. Making a huge stride in this direction is India’s first women’s health festival – FemmeCon – by TheaCare which recently concluded its second edition in Delhi in a two-day event between December 7 and 8.
The event opened up discussions on various critical issues like PCOS, endometriosis, menopause, health insurance, breast care, period poverty, vaginismus, pelvic health etc. However, it was the keynote discussion, where the panellists delved deep into the period politics, pad versus cloth and the big corporates versus smaller organizations, that caught the attention of the audience. These are much larger conversations which are important to be had to break the myth of the “comfort” of synthetic chemical-based sanitary napkins.
The challenges of the period industry
Meenakshi Gupta, co-founder of GOONJ, raised the issue of unawareness both among the urban and rural women. “We all go and buy a pad from our local pharmacies but how many of us educated women ask whether the pad is eco-friendly or what chemicals does it have etc. Or how many of us know how long a pad is supposed to be used? and if we haven’t asked these questions then imagine the vast number of women living in rural areas.”
Dr Sharda Jain, founder and Secretary-General of Delhi Gynaecologist Forum conceded with Gupta and raised the issue of the harmful chemicals being used in the making of sanitary pads and how they adversely affect women’s health. “They are all bleached to make it white and look attractive. They all have dioxins which cause anything from endometriosis to cancer. Not a single pad is available in the Indian market which is dioxide-free so whatever we are getting, the less is said about them the better,” she added.
We all go and buy a pad from our local pharmacies but how many of us educated women ask whether the pad is eco-friendly or what chemicals does it have etc. Or how many of us know how long a pad is supposed to be used? – Meenakshi Gupta
The discussion also revolved around if the largest marketers of sanitary napkins have actually helped create awareness around menstruation in the society, or was it the women’s movement and feminists of the time working over the issue who helped push the buck. Largely the panel agreed that the bigger companies only saw the demand amongst women and so they latched on to the profit-making business. Now that more eco-friendly and sustainable choices are becoming accessible, we must educate ourselves around those and make informed choices.
Another major highlight of the festival was a brief talk by Suman, menstrual health activist from Hapur. She is the one on whom the Oscar-award winning film Period. End of Sentence was made.
The event addressed different topics through expert talks, personalised sessions with doctors from Delhi Gynaecologists Forum, storytelling sessions by women and inputs from industry leaders and policymakers. Over 300 women attended the event and made the sessions extremely interactive, calling it a safe space to talk about their health – both mental and reproductive.
Largely the panel agreed that the bigger companies only saw the demand amongst women and so they latched on to the profit-making business. Now that more eco-friendly and sustainable choices are becoming accessible, we must educate ourselves around those and make informed choices.
Neeti Palta, standup comic, brought humour into the fray and spoke about all the social pressure on women to conceive. The festival also featured a hard-hitting photo exhibition on Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting in India, supported by advocacy organisation Sahiyo.
Swarnima Bhattacharya, the founder of the festival and TheaCare, spoke to SheThePeople.TV about how this idea of a celebratory festival came about and she said, “The organizations that have already been working on issues like menstruation, PCOS etc. have given a positive spin to it by breaking myths and taboos. So while we still feel clenched because of these, I thought of reimagining our uterus as a more creative and thriving part of our body and not something that should be taken as a burden. Secondly for the format, I wanted to bring in industry experts where they can talk about what the audience wants to know in an interactive manner. With AMAs and PowerByte sessions, we could successfully achieve that.”