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Hard time managing the sanitary pads? Here are a few alternatives

When I first got my period, I was 9 years old. My mother handed me a sanitary napkin and showed me how to use it. For about the next ten years, I thought they are the only way to handle menstrual blood. This is true for the majority of brown girls from a middle or upper-class background, even though sanitary napkins can be ridiculously inconvenient. They can cause rashes and infections.  You have to constantly make sure they are correctly positioned to prevent leaking. And don’t even think of swimming or any fun in the water during that time of the month. Yet, most women in this region of the world do not even question why there aren’t better solutions to something that affects half the population.

In reality, there are many alternatives to sanitary napkins, and a lot of them are actually available in Dhaka. While many of these options may sound uncomfortable or fussy at first, it is worth at least learning about them. After all, especially with something as essential and inescapable as menstruation, it is important to make informed choices, even if you choose to stick to ordinary sanitary napkins. So, here are three other methods of collecting menstrual blood that you might want to consider.

Tampons

Tampons are small, soft “sticks” of absorbent material that are about the size of your thumb. Unlike pads, they collect menstrual blood internally – that is, they are inserted into the vagina and left there to soak up the blood. There are many variations of tampons and just like pads, you should pick the ones that suit your flow. There are kinds of tampons which come with an inserter – which is essentially a syringe-like apparatus that helps you place the tampon correctly – and there are also kinds without inserters, which require you to use your fingers. If inserted correctly and far enough, you should not feel the tampon inside you when you stand or walk, nor should it leak. Just like pads, you must change them every 6 or so hours, depending on the flow. You can take them out by pulling them by the string attached to the end of the tampon. Tampons can be extremely helpful particularly in case of sports, as it allows for free movement, as well as eliminates the risk of rashes or infections.

Where to find them: Unimart, certain Facebook pages such as Quick Mart BD and Fashionavo.

Reusable menstrual pads

A huge downside of both pads and tampons are the environmental impacts of the menstrual waste they generate. Not only are pads and tampons made of plastic themselves, their packaging and wrapping also contribute to the enormous amount of waste produced. Given that a woman goes through more than 250 pads & tampons a year, this number becomes even larger and scarier when we multiply it by almost half the population on Earth. This is where eco-friendly options of menstrual blood collection come in. One such alternative is the reusable menstrual pad. They are exactly like normal pads, except made entirely of cloth. Get started with four to six cloth sanitary pads (make sure you grab the right size!) and all you have to do after use is clean the stains and wash them like normal clothes. Cloth pads are far more comfortable to wear and last 2-3 years, so you’ll feel much less guilty about the environment (and your wallet) after each cycle.

Where to find them: Jatrabiroti

Menstrual cups

Another eco-friendly alternative is the menstrual cup. It is exactly what the name suggests – a plastic cup. Much like a tampon, the menstrual cup has to be folded and inserted into the vagina. The sides of the cup are soft and seals against the walls of the vagina and collects the blood inside. After 6-12 hours, depending on your flow, all you have to do is remove, empty, wash with water and reinsert. After each cycle, it is crucial to sterilize your cup in boiling water as instructed by the product. Used properly and in the correct size, menstrual cups are extremely comfortable, convenient, and easy to use. They can also last up to 10 years, which is a huge cut down on both menstrual waste and money!

Where to find them: Organicup BD

Menstruation is as natural a process as eating, and so it is important to do proper research and make informed choices about how to deal with periods too. As a South Asian society, it is generally unthinkable to put anything in your vagina before marriage, which explains why menstrual cups and tampons particularly can seem like baffling, alien concepts. However, moving past those taboos and myths can only liberate us. Periods are here for the long haul, so explore your options without stigma and find what works best for you.

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation

This past week, artists, poets, dancers and musicians from different walks of life had come together at Jatra Biroti, under the glistening full moon, for the occasion of LAL; the celebration of the natural phenomenon of menstruation.

What is LAL?

Jatra Biroti, a locus of art and culture in Dhaka, had organized a five-day long event, aligned with the dates of the full moon, to celebrate menstruation and its connection with the divine moon cycle. This event aimed to break the stigma that is often associated with period. It aimed to educate people of all ages and genders about menstruation. And create a space where people could come together to talk freely about “that time of the month”.

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation

It was an event unlike any other; from children to senior citizens, openly discussing and even rejoicing about period positivity.

In a society like Bangladesh, where we shut down any conversation regarding this ordinary bodily function of women, it is necessary that we take measures to normalize such topics. And Lal acts as a groundbreaking event which is opening new spaces of conversation and subverting the age-old stigmas related to menstruation.

Breaking stigma through art

LAL has used the powerful tool of art in various forms; such as poetry, artworks, music, dance and more. In the process, dismantling the preconceived notions that people often hold about menstruation.

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Art can be a compelling vehicle that can bring about change in how we perceive things; it can help us to identify ourselves with matters that may otherwise seem unfamiliar to us. It can spur thinking, engagement and even action and that is what this event dedicated to menstruation aspired to achieve.

The exhibition

The exhibition, located on the third floor of Jatra Biroti, opens with a massive vagina tunnel entry (it doesn’t get more unconventional than that). It then leads the pathway to numerous artworks representing menstruation. Weeks before the event, Jatra Biroti had announced an open call to artists and enthusiasts for submissions of artworks. The call received an overwhelming response from several artists who wanted to contribute to this initiative. Each artist had brought in their own unique perspectives and representations through their fearless artworks.

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One of the artists that I conversed with said, “I tried to bring in humor to my work so people can become comfortable talking about menstruation. It doesn’t have to be this sacred thing, because I’m literally bleeding from down there every month”. Another said, “I feel like I’m gaining autonomy over my own body as I draw about menstruation”.

Being a participant myself, it was truly rewarding to witness how art can disrupt people’s predetermined ideas about matters like the menstrual stigma.

Dance, Music, Poetry

This five-day long celebration was also filled with various performances and music sessions by several other artists. Some of the major highlights of LAL were the moving poetry recitations by Munia Islam and Bokulful, the powerful performances by Arthy, Krishnokoli, Preema Nazia and the soulful musical evenings by Shourik SK and UNY, Sovotta, Vee, Anusheh Anadil, Baul Shofi Mondol and the Ghaashforing Choir to name a few.

Workshops

Some interactive workshop sessions were also held by organizations like Astha Foundation, Kotha, Project Konna, Naripokkho. All of them were aimed at normalizing the topic of menstruation in their own distinctive ways. Each session took a different and creative approach in order to explore the topic of period with their audience. For instance, Astha Foundation took on a more humorous approach where they debunked period myths, created awareness about menstrual hygiene and PMS with a touch of sarcasm.

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Project Konna aimed to create a more intimate experience between couples so they can be comfortable about the topic of period.

Kotha held a class conscious interactive workshop on menstruation. With the help of participants, they built 3 characters and walked through their unique menstruating experiences to highlight how accessibility differs vastly as we move across different classes.

Recyclable sanitary products

While the event set out to challenge the stigma around menstruation, it had also taken the initiative to raise awareness of plastic in disposable menstrual products, and how we can work to minimize this by using biodegradable and reusable sanitary products in order to protect our environment. Several hundred pads are disposed on a daily basis, just inside Dhaka, which pollute our environment inconceivably. Under the name Lal Peyala, Jatra is selling reusable pads which are available in a variety of designs. They are also selling menstrual cups in order to create a more sustainable way of managing our periods.

An event like LAL is momentous. Because, even though it may not solve the problems regarding menstruation in Bangladesh overnight, it can help to change the conversation around it by ending the shame that we associate with it.

A vital step for us to make any substantial progress.


This bloody menstruation taboo has loomed over us for far too long, so lets all just come out in the open and say it, all women bleed. Period.