If, like my gran, you were born in the 40s, you may have been part of the generation of women forced to use cloth towels to tame their time of the month. When it came to the 60s, my mum recalls her sister running home from school crying "I am dying!" when she first starting menstruating. She was met with, "Calm down and be quiet." And in the 90s, a friend of mine had the exact same reaction to starting her period as my aunt, and not only received no explanation for why she was "dying", but in the absence of guidance proceeded to place the sanitary towel on upside down!
You can imagine how painful that was. What is also painful is that the subject of menstruation has been blooded with stigma, shame and taboo, so much so that girls who think they are on their death beds are unable to seek advice and basic education on what a period is and how to use a sanitary towel.
We need to reclaim the vagina... in every aspect of our lives.
In fact, it is extremely painful that nearly 70 years on from my grandmother's era, a staggering 77% of women in India still use an old cloth during menstruation. In addition, 23% of girls in this country drop out of school when they start menstruating due to social attitudes and accessibility of sanitary products. A staggering 70% of reproductive diseases in India are caused due to poor menstrual health management.
Why are women and girls facing the injustice of the denial of the basic right to a sanitary towel to help them through a natural and biological process? When did the word "period" become shameful?
I believe that the vagina, and discussion of it, has been repressed and penalized for far too long. I remember a boy called me a "vagina" at primary school, so I went home to ask my family what it meant. Nobody educated me on the fact that this was a sexist remark but instead I was silenced for uttering a taboo word. (You can imagine how things have drastically changed as I am writing this article!)
Let's end the abuse of the vagina which not only gives birth to a child but then has unequal parental responsibility.
We need to reclaim the vagina. As a candidate for the Women's Equality Party for the Greater London Assembly (London-wide), I believe we need to do this in every aspect of our lives. Let's end sexual violence against the vagina, where in London, rape is statistically higher than knife-crime but has marginally less convictions.
Let's end the abuse of the vagina when it enters the workplace and earns 23% less than men. Let's end the abuse of the vagina which not only gives birth to a child but then has unequal parental responsibility.
And let's give women the basic and human right of an education about her vagina (and how to recognise when it's being used as sexist language). Let's educate our girls about the fact that they will have a period every month. And let's recognize that girls and woman around the world should be entitled to sanitary products as a basic human right.
It is not all doom and gloom. There are many organizations working towards this cause. I have recently become charity ambassador for Binti, an organization that distributes free sanitary towels to homeless women and girls and refugees in the UK, and those in need in India, whilst also providing, what I think is key to changing attitudes and attaining justice: an education. Education is so important so that girls will be able to stay in school, have better hygiene, and have a greater understanding about their bodies.
Let's recognize that girls and woman around the world should be entitled to sanitary products as a basic human right.
I want the next generation of girls to know that they are not dying. They are living, and may also have the chance of creating another living being by starting their period. I do not want anyone to go through the pain of the sticky side up but I do want everyone to have access to sanitary towels. And I want women and girls to reclaim the vagina. We deserve that, don't we?
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