“Bleed Free!!!”

I grew up in a family of five siblings. Two elder sisters and 3 brothers, me being the youngest (naughtiest and the most inquisitive). Once a month, I would see my sisters complaining to my mother about some stomach aches and why they didn’t want to go to school. My mother would get them Chamomile Tea, mixed with fennel and a sprinkle of cinnamon (help reduce cramps when you menstruate). The inquisitive I was, I often used to ask my mother why my sisters complained every month about cramps and why we brothers never got such pain. I even once raised my voice suggesting to my mother that she fed bad food to her daughters and good food to her sons and cried asking God why he cursed my sisters and not us their brothers. Alarmed by allegations and inquisitiveness my beautiful granny held me in her arms and told me why were only girls cursed and had to bleed, unlike the boys. She told us a story about young Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. She said in those virtuous times it was the men who would get their periods and bleed from their armpits. On one of those days when young Shiva was bleeding, he had to go and, for war, but he couldn’t because he was having periods, so Parvati being his eternal wife told Shiva that being a woman she can hide the blood in between her legs and she wouldn’t need to go out either if only Shiva could give her “his curse” and Shiva obliged. She said that periods were a blessing for women and that we should never complain about getting them. Later my mom and school explained to me that periods were a result of hormonal changes at a particular age in a girl’s body, getting it (the girl’s body) ready for a child’s birth.

Today, there is a number of men and women are blogging, vlogging, sharing stories, and even blogs, vlogs, and communities engaging in conversations about menstruation. Now a lot of women, men, and parents talk about it openly. Yep!! We have come a long way, from the gates of Sabrimala temple (Kerala, India) being open for women and girls of menstruating age (between ten and 50) which was banned from time immemorial (as per the belief that menstruating women would distract the deity, perceived to be a celibate bachelor) to Kiran Gandhi who ran 26.2 miles in A London Marathon in 2015 without a tampon, letting her BLEED FREE, in an effort to fight period-shaming and to take a stand for women around the globe who don’t have access to menstruation products or who have to “hide [their period] away like it doesn’t exist.” In the past couple of years, there has been a change in the approach, mindset when dealing with such issues, Women in urban India are being vocal and there are numerous organizations striving to create awareness on this subject. Celebrated Indian movies like “Padman” – A story of Arunachalam Muruganantham and how he went to create sanitary pads for women in the most budgeted way so that women of all income groups can afford it, only shows how people are opening up to the discussion.

In spite of these efforts, women in many developing countries and rural India still cannot afford it.

In the wake of this affordability, one amongst the world countries,

Scotland makes sanitary products free for all.

As tweeted by Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, “The goal of these measures is to End Period Poverty”.The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill has been passed unanimously by MSPs on November 25, 2020, to provide full & free access to sanitary products. Scotland’s initiative to make sanitary products available for free gives us a sense of change which is more action-oriented than just vanity or just a talk. Scotland’s move of free sanitary products represents the right of every woman.

Let’s have a look at what other economies are doing in this space!

In most countries, menstrual products have been taxed under different laws and acts. Companies also generate reasonable revenues by charging extensively on their menstrual products that they have to offer.

Now the number game, Woman population of Scotland is approx. 28 lakhs and it is not a big deal for a country to provide free products. What is the appreciable fact here is that their thought of women's dignity and rights for the basic needs which has to be considered, though of the highest stature and break the barriers of society? They have set an example for the whole world by this initiative. They gave the rights to women what they need is a must and a priority. It’s time for people in society to start a revolution for the right of women for their basic needs, health, and hygiene and break the taboo.

If Scotland can give the basic sanitary needs to women for free, can other countries do it too?

This would be a million-dollar question!

Let’s look at the Indian perspective, India’s women population is approx. 68 crore which is 24 times more than Scotland and most of the women live in rural areas where patriarchy prevails, where the woman is considered just like another object rather than an identity. In rural areas, the women and young girls still follow unhygienic and traditional ways like a piece of cloth instead of a sanitary pad. Most of the girls tend to miss their school and colleges during their monthly cycle as they cannot purchase a pad.

When GST was introduced in India the govt taxed 12% for sanitary pads. In 2018 after months of campaigning the govt has scrapped the tax. India’s initiatives in this space, on October 26, 2020, Union Minister of Women and Child Development and Textiles – Smriti Irani launched My Pad My Right a campaign striving to empower and uplift two million women and create livelihood opportunities for as much as thousand individuals. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the Nabfoundation and “Padman” Arunachalam Muruganantham’sJayaashree Industries, have collaborated for a Pan-India project, where centers would be set up in all States and Union Territories so that women can be trained to produce low-cost sanitary napkins. These sanitary pad making units will provide sanitary products at economical prices and would create employment opportunities for women. These initiatives would definitely increase the availability and awareness of menstrual products, but the question arises Can the Rural, Urban uneducated Indian Women afford it? Not Sure!

Will these local organizations survive amidst the giant companies that earn millions from selling menstrual products? That is another million-dollar question.

As Scotland has announced to give free menstrual products and if other countries can do so then what is in it to these existing companies? Will the government be able to purchase the products from existing organizations and sell at subsidized prices or would they invite the locally produced sanitary pads which are priced inexpensive? Are big companies are going to produce low -cost menstrual products? We cannot comment on this….

Will our women bleed free or still bleed for freedom from Social Taboos?

Leave your valuable comments below

Author - Uday Kant G

Co-Author - Ishtiyaque Rabbani