In the UK, periods still carry a certain stigma. But the taboo is vastly magnified in India, where it’s estimated that only 12% of the country’s menstruating women are able to afford sanitary pads (the other 88% are often forced to use alternatives such as unsanitised cloth, ashes and sand). The practice of banishing rural women and girls to huts outside their villages during their periods is prevalent in parts of central India, and over 30% of girls in northern India say that they dropped out of school after starting menstruating.
The United Nations says that stigma around menstruation is a human rights issue, and over the last few years there have been several campaigns designed to dispel myths surrounding periods in the country. Breaking the Silence, an education initiative launched by journalist and campaigner Urmila Chanam, has reached women and girls all over the country, while the hashtag #HappyToBleed went viral back in late 2015.
Now one group of medical school students in southern India have picked up the baton – by picking up their pens.
The students, who attend Calicut Medical College in Kerala, have written a series of moving poems about the experiences and attitudes surrounding periods in India for a campaign called The Red Cycle.
“Silence is the first lesson a girl in India learns once she steps into ‘womanhood’,” say the team behind The Red Cycle on the campaign’s Facebook page. “From sanitary napkins meticulously covered and kept away from public sight to an endless list of menstrual myths, society considers menstruation a dirty subject rather than a normal physiological process vital in sustaining life.”
The students add that they hope their poems will help shatter some of the stigma surrounding menstruation in their home country.
“The fact that most of the entries were made by college students and there was large male participation shows that hopes are high on the horizon,” they say. “A time when a woman who bleeds will not be looked upon with hatred and fear is definitely not far away.”
Read on for more of our favourite poems from The Red Cycle campaign, and click here to see every poem in the series.
Main image: iStock