Menstrual Exclusion largely refers to those practices that restrict, inhibit, discriminate and render limited menstruators’ agency to participate in everyday life. As acknowledged by a group of United Nations Human Rights Experts, this could potentially have consequences that range from mild to severe psycho-social distress and trauma to forms of violations that manifest differently in spaces of home, places of worship, schools, workplaces, etc.
One of the best examples to demonstrate the lack of a rights-based approach in menstrual health is the entry of womxn to Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Although the Supreme Court of India intervened and made a landmark ruling in September 2018 — any exception placed on womxn because of biological differences violates the Constitution..the ban violates the right to equality under Article 14, and freedom of religion under Article 25 -womxn are still condemned to keep their distance from this place of worship.
What are your rights, as a citizen, when you are discriminated against by virtue of being a person who menstruates?
#STOPPeriodPenalty is a campaign that seeks to answer this question. We aim to establish impactful interventions and redressal mechanisms against instances of menstrual discrimination and exclusion in India. The foundation of the campaign is rooted in a repository of lived realities of menstrual exclusion and discrimination as collected through a survey disemminated by Boondh - a robust, confidential database whose insights will build into an advocacy effort.
1. LEGAL ADVOCACY
- Developing a legal and sociocultural analysis of the experiences to challenge, subvert, negotiate, dialogue personal/bystander engagements on menstrual exclusion/discrimination based on the analysis of the repository
- Building a legal literacy toolkit of a menstruator’s rights based on what is already enshrined within the Constitution of India and other legislative tools that will give agency, voice and rights-based tools to individually and institutionally challenge, assert and demand their rights
- Challenging the legal challenges in the face of menstrual exclusion/discrimination by filing a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the High Court of Karnataka. We invite collaborations for the same from legal counsel and please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. SOCIO-CULTURAL DIGITAL ADVOCACY
- Highlight and advocate the pervasiveness of menstrual exclusion and discrimination by promoting the repository
- Create and deploy strategic digital audiovisual content that will focus on the above repository.
Building the case for menstrual exclusion: institutions and homes:
We need to pause to reflect on the gravity of the atrocities meted out to menstruating persons and look at these instances as negligence, intentional mistreatment, and non-cognizance of a menstuator's choice to go through the monthly labor, to reproduce, as invisible reproductive labor whether one may choose to exercise the same or not.
It is a penalty, much like the motherhood penalty where mothers encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, perceived competence, and benefits; as compared to childless persons.
In Tamil Nadu (TN), female textile workers were routinely given pills to work through their period pain so that the production does not get affected. This is a direct violation of the labor laws and has lead to serious side effects among the workers. The lack of a menstrual policy allowed for these factories to make a choice — Cut in wages for the days cannot work or pills to ease the pain and avail the pay. Missing wages were not an option for workers with loans and a family to take care of. So they would take the pill, unaware of the side effects — irregular periods, depression and anxiety, to urinary tract infections, fibroids, and miscarriages. As reported by The Scroll, Sudha, a 17-year old textile factory worker shared, “Half my salary of Rs 6,000 rupees would go in paying off the loan and a big amount on my trips to the doctor, it became a cycle I was not able to break. And even though my health became worse, I needed to keep working to pay the bills.”
The story of the sugarcane workers of Beed, Maharashtra, was pivotal to bringing the conversations around menstrual discrimination and the lack of menstrual policies to the mainstream discourse. Surgical operations were done on sugar workers in Beed to remove their womb, for the same reasons that textile workers in TN were given the pills — maintaining production quantums per day.
While these are examples of cruel treatment to menstruating bodies in the workplace, the educational institutions have their own ways to discriminate as well.
68 girls college girls were asked to remove their underwear to check if they were menstruating after a used sanitary pad was found in the garden outside the hostel. The hostel also had backward rules such as — menstruating females are not allowed to enter the temple and kitchen. They cannot stay inside the hostel room but in the basement area. They cannot socialize and have to sit on the last benches in the classroom during their periods. They cannot even touch other students.
Apart from such institutional discrimination, menstruating persons face exclusion at home. This is no secret, it has been widely experienced and documented. Menstruating persons are not allowed to touch others, enter the kitchen, prayer room, touch communal objects, participate in social gatherings, or enter temples. Menstruators in Nepal, for example, face forty restrictions when they menstruate!
We need menstrual equity to progress as individuals and as a society.
We need to recognize, negotiate, and penalize such instances that are widely documented and especially address the ones that are not. As menstruation is a taboo subject there is very little research or any data available in this area. Most of the data we have on issues related to menstruation is anecdotal. However, we hope to have demonstrated some evidence to encourage the stakeholders — government, corporations, civil society — to establish a redressal mechanism. A set of interventions.
How Can You Help?
Your support is essential to reach the campaign’s end goal. You can participate by filling out this survey, where we try to understand you, what kind of menstrual discrimination or violence or mistreatment you have experienced or seen someone being subject to, we want to know what you think can be done to address this concern. A lot needs to be done and we can only do this together! Share this survey link within your network and encourage your loved ones to share their anecdotes.