Why shy away?

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Since the days of my puberty, I have seen my female friends and sisters talking in private about how they feel about that special time they have to bleed every month. I was also the part of that group which discussed these dark secrets and changed the topic as soon as any boy entered the classroom. And in case if any of the guy friends mistakenly overheard us, our cheeks would go red and we could not look into the eyes of that guy for the next few days. Well, that was back in my school days 10-12 years ago. It was always a lady teacher whom we would talk to in case we needed to go out to buy sanitary napkins. We could not gather the guts to go to the pharmacy all alone. One would always seek a friend's company. What if the vendor is a man? It was never easy to look him in the eyes and ask for a sanitary napkin. How I wish it was different when I was in college. It was the same. Entering temples and being part of the festivals during the menstruation cycle is a radical change we are expecting, a farfetched dream; how many of us are really comfortable buying a sanitary pad without getting them wrapped up in a newspaper, as if it is an illegal object? People (specifically men) urinate in public, smoke openly, get drunk in public places, and they just get away with it. Isn't it a bizarre world where all of these things can actually happen openly and girls have to feel ashamed about the most natural phenomenon?

While all of us know how natural it is for a girl to menstruate after a certain age, what is often neglected and only discussed as a part of "girl talk" is how uncomfortable and painful are those four days of a month. Well, we all are proud that we were born a girl, but there would hardly be a woman who has not at least once in her lifetime envied a man or resented him for not having to go through "periods". Changing napkins several times a day, having period cramps and carrying on with daily tasks at the same time makes one so exhausted that no girl can help feeling gross and resentful in those four days. Sanitary pads are expensive. One has to allocate a good amount of budget per month for them. While they are easily available in the urban areas, rural women do not even know how to use them. There are condom ads everywhere, tutorials on how to use them. Condoms are even distributed abundantly for free. There is no taboo attached with a man buying condom openly. Everybody knows and accepts it is for a good purpose. So, why the shame with buying sanitary pads? And why can't the government do something about making it available and accessible to the women of all parts of our country?

I have worked in a reputed NGO where the majority of staffs were women of fertile age who of course had to go through menstruation every month. And the need to change our napkins several times a day during that time is just so real. But the office had just one restroom, attached to the boss's room and there was no dustbin in it. We would be talking about big "girl empowerment projects and gender-friendly development approaches" and brainstorming about it while ourselves hiding sanitary napkins in the inner pockets of our pants while entering the toilet so that no male staff would see that we were about to change. "Changing" would not be easy as there was no dustbin to throw away the used one, so one had to wrap it up in the newspaper and throw in the dustbin that's outside, which again was carefully hidden and thrown when nobody is looking. The toilet did not have good supply of water which made it even more difficult to clean oneself up. Office management is not to be blamed solely here. I blame me and the entire female staff team for shying away. Why couldn't we speak and say what was important for us? We thought we were adjusting well but was that compromise necessary while we could have just set up a dustbin or at least ask for it, be comfortable and unapologetic about it? I am sure nobody would have problem with it eventually. And, why can’t a working place be sensitive about these basic women issues? Shouldn't gender-friendly amenities be prioritized in the office where more than half of the staffers are female?

I think women themselves have to take lead for the change. They just have to stop shying away. Change is a gradual process, yet it is the only thing bound to occur over the time if one is really willing to make it happen.

Bibhu Thapaliya Shrestha is a KU graduate in Development Studies.

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