Thursday, May 15, 2014

From my Facebook wall today...

This is a sensitive topic, so scroll away if you're uncomfortable with 'women's' stuff. If not, take a print out and put it up in your work place...

Mr.Muruganantham's wife left him when she could no longer stomach the fact that he had a goat's bladder attached to his waist as he tested out a new low cost sanitary napkin he'd created. She eventually went back to him, after he went on to revolutionize clean and low cost production of napkins, making it available to rural Indian regions that had been relying on unhygienic practices such as rags and hay for centuries. He has been featured in numerous TED talks and his name is familiar to all those who applaud such passionate rebels with a cause.

But the core issue itself is something that I find still largely ignored. The feminist movement of the 1900's was so caught up in its fight for equality, we seem to have de-emphasized our differences. Equal, but different. That should have made it on to more posters.

First of all, I think a large section of the population require education on some basic biological facts. Not all women are the same, just as not all men are the same. As the numerous ads for 'enhancement' and 'elongation' blatantly scream, each person has a unique sexual physiology as well. This includes women.

What this means, to spell it out clearly, is that each woman has a completely unique experience when it comes to her menstrual cycle. Some, like in those infuriating ads, cycle and jump off cliffs with a gleaming smile, barely aware of what their body is doing. Many and I mean it- many, suffer varying levels of pain. Debilitating, in some cases. At the least, it is uncomfortable. There is also an understandably heightened desire and need for more hygienic facilities.

In a world which ignores this issue and where women have had to 'man up' to be equal, this pain, these needs get shoved under the rug. Painkillers ensure we continue on our demanding schedule without rest and what's more, with a no-nonsense smile. I'm sure we women are proud of our strength and uncomplaining 'manning' up, but is it necessary? And is it always right? Why is this issue so desensitized that we have to find ways around it?

In all the places I have worked in in India, I have never encountered any consciousness of this issue. In fact, I have had to be creative and even sneaky to deal with something so natural, yet so taboo. In private conversations with my female colleagues, I have heard many bitter complaints that are never ever voiced. From washrooms to work place policies, there are resources and sensitivities that women require, that we shouldn't not have! We should not be silent.

In times gone by, there was an Indian practice that required a woman to rest during her menstrual cycle. She was relieved of all household chores and fed healthy foods that actually strengthened her body. The enforced rest and food is something I have tried repeatedly and I cannot emphasize enough how much of a difference it makes. Eventually, that practice became corrupted with customs and in modern times, looked down upon even more with contempt. I am aware it is unrealistic to expect that in this day and age, when even maternity leave is made as short as possible, but I am saddened by how far we have fallen in sensitivity to this issue. That is the point I wish to emphasize.

The work places of today could take a few leaves out of Mr. Muruganantham's book. His earnest desire to understand led him to don shoes that very few men bother with- that of a woman's. Work places policies and resources are largely set down by men in positions of power who have never thought about this. Even when women rule, this is ignored because that is the norm.

I would like to change that norm because I am tired of manning up and I do not want to- I am not a man. I don't have to act like one.  I have sent this post as an email to my former employers already, and I am going to ask for changes in my current work place. These are the points I will put forth and I hope that the women that I know at least will start by asking for the changes that they know they rightly deserve and need!

To my current employers,

I point out these necessities -

Separate wash room facilities for men and women should be compulsory. The rooms should have nooks and shelves for hanging/placing things such as disposable bags and napkins.

The facilities should be attended and cleaned diligently.

If the staff have enforced uniforms, then a dark color should be chosen for the pant/skirt so that a woman can deal with any accidents relating to her menstruation with dignity. There should also be an option to wear comfortable clothing instead.

If the job requires being on their feet in any capacity, then short periods of rest as and when required.


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