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Why Indian women are #HappyToBleed

A group of women have launched a campaign to break the taboo surrounding menstruation in India

Last week, Punjabi student and gender rights activist Nikita Azad wrote an open letter to Sabrimala temple chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan – a man who said he wants a machine that scans menstruating women. “These days there are machines that can scan bodies and check for weapons,” he said. “There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside.”

In her letter, Azad challenges the belief that women can become impure from bleeding or that, worse, it’s a sin. “I am a girl of 20,” she wrote. “I have eyes, nose, ears, lips, arms, legs just as any human on earth. But, unfortunately, I also have breasts, hips, and a bleeding vagina,” she writes. “I recently came to know that my blood pollutes the temple Sabrimala, and I am denied entry into it because I am a woman who menstruates. After challenging the misogyny in Gopalakrishnan’s statement, she signed off the letter, “Yours sincerely, a young, bleeding woman.”

Gopalakrishnan’s comment was demonstrative of a taboo around menstruation – a taboo that is not specific to Hinduism or India. Despite the fact that around half of the world’s population will have their period at some point in their lives, there is still a stigma around this process. Led by Azad, a group of women in India are attempting to break this taboo with a campaign called #HappyToBleed.

“Happy, as a word, is used as a satire, a taunt, a comment, on patriarchal forces which attach the understanding of purity-impurity of women with menstruation,” Azad writes on the campaign website. “Also, since menstruation is criminalised whose perpetrator is woman (sic), #happy as a tag breaks with this hegemonic belief.”

Elsewhere on the site, she presents some shocking statistics about the effect this belief has, particularly on working-class and Dalit women. “Eighty eight per cent of women resort to shocking alternatives like unsanitised cloth, ashes and husk hand,” she writes, “While 70 per cent of women cannot afford to use sanitary napkins. It also states that around 23 per cent of girls actually drop out of school after they start menstruating.”

Azad is encouraging women (and men) to participate in the campaign by uploading their pictures, holding placards made from sanitary pads or tampons to help break the taboo around menstruation. Since launching the campaign on Saturday, Azad reports that “more than 100 women have posted their photographs on Facebook holding banners and placards.”

Head here to find out more about the #HappyToBleed campaign.