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A new documentary addresses the stigma of menstruation in India (economist.com)
122 points by sohkamyung 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 108 comments



My partner and I face similar challenges in Pakistan. We sell cups instead of pads, so we get the stigma of menstruation being a taboo as well as the reluctance to insert cups because they are thought to make a women lose her virginity.

The virginity issue doesn't make any sense, but it's a big part of the culture here. It's good to see posts like these showing the way people think about menstruation in places like India.


The story of the entrepreneur behind this is a stunning example of sheer not-giving-up-ness - he lost his wife, his job, became a social outcast but built a social company - keeping funds in local areas, giving jobs to local women not multinational pharmas

He's pretty much a hero

I look forward to watching this.

An older reference: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26260978


That is Arunachalam M, his story was also made into a movie. [1]

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pad_Man_(film)


> Some 23% of girls drop out of school upon reaching puberty, humiliated by their peers and unable to access clean, private toilets.

What I find disturbing is that school peers humiliate each other over menstruation. Nearly all girls get it during puberty, so why are they shaming each other? And for the boys who shame their classmates, why aren't their teachers holding them accountable?!


In a country without access to toilets and clean water, why would they have the resources for 1st world level teacher oversight?

This is kind of like asking why water is wet. Many children (likely due to their parents) are insecure savages with under-developed empathy. Humiliating each other is simply what they do. Hence why we force them to undergo decades of education outside the home to learn how to relate to each other in a civilized, healthy way by adulthood.


To be fair, plenty of first world children can be perfectly competent secure savages with self-centered complexes and self-gratification perpetuated by their parents and family wealth.

Kids really don't learn empathy innately. It has to be taught, and its not something to just lecture, it needs to be learned through experience.


> What I find disturbing is that school peers humiliate each other over menstruation. Nearly all girls get it during puberty, so why are they shaming each other? And for the boys who shame their classmates, why aren't their teachers holding them accountable?!

I agree its disturbing, but it's not surprising. School-age people can be very cruel. For a US (in the 1990s) perspective on menstruation-related shaming, check out the lyrics to "My red self" by Heavens to Betsy, for example. They were school-aged when they wrote that.

Edit: s/Heavents/Heavens/


What you're looking at is a cultural trait, everyone does it because everyone does it. In the US we have a few of these but they're difficult to notice because you're used to them.

>why aren't their teachers holding them accountable?!

The teachers grew up with and participated in the same practices.


Tragedy of the commons. Individually, perpetuating the status quo is the "better" option.


why are they shaming each other?

I guess it's partly because menstruation is typically accompanied by mood swings which render the person concerned more vulnerable to bullying.


I think you're overthinking here. Children going through puberty are accompanied by mood swings, so if that was the case they'd all be shaming each other, boys and girls, for all kinds of things (To be fair, they basically are. Children suck this way).

The stigma around menstruation is entirely cultural. It's about someone being unclean/icky. The mood swings feel like a complete red herring.


Why can't it be both? Isn't bullying just as much a cultural phenomenon as ideas about blood and ickiness? It targets those who less psychologically secure, as menstruators temporarily are, relative to their peers.


> those who less psychologically secure, as menstruators temporarily are

Source?


If you search for 'premenstrual syndrome' you'll find symptoms reported include things like anxiety, irritability and mood swings.


PMS doesn't make women "less psychologically secure." Full stop.


I'm in Vietnam and friends with someone who built a business around promoting and selling silicon re-usable cups for women in VN. She said that a lot of what she goes up against is the train of thought that a woman will no longer be a virgin. I find this really depressing and sad as it makes no logical sense at all.


Hi! could you share the name of the business, please?


Please contact me privately. I don't think HN takes kindly to advertising... even for a good purpose like this.


I’d highly recommend the movie mentioned in this article, Padman. It’s incredibly heartwarming, and the guy it’s based on is truly remarkable.


I hate how the push (even lobbying I'd say) for pads and tampons is never questionned. It's expensive, it produces tons of waste, but most of all it creates dependent customers. Yet it's acclaimed as selfless ?

Give these women cups and they're settled for life.


The answer may lie here.

> Nielsen, a research firm, estimates that around 70% of women in the country cannot afford sanitary products: 300m use unhygienic alternatives like newspapers, dry leaves and cotton rags.

There's a push for pads - not tampons due to conservative reasons.


How is this a reason to push anything but cups?


The issue is that it goes up inside the vagina, whereas a pad doesn't. The taboo is related to a perceived loss of virginity. It's hard for me to hold my tongue and not outright assail such thinking, but for me to do so would be fruitless.


I agree but still, many women are probably not virgins so...


> Give these women cups and they're settled for life.

Comparing to sterile-packaged pads/tampons, cups need access for the wearer to a sterilization source - be it a microwave, clean (!) hot water, or chemical agents.

Cups are something for Western populations where reliable access is given, but not for unsanitary conditions in developing countries.


Boiling water is enough. And while I've never been there I guess they drink water and cook like most humans so combining both might be manageable.

Also, you don't need everything to be sterile anyways, and pads and tampons certainly are not. Clean is enough, with sterilization from time to time.


Consider in context: 56% of Indians lack even basic sanitation, and 12% lack any access to clean water.


You don't need clean water, boiling some is enough to kill most germs. And boiling seems common in a culture with lots of cooked meals.

Germs which are not even that big of a problem anyways, considering vaginas are supposed to be in contact with dirty stuff : fingers or penises are not known for their cleaniness. It mostly self maintains.


I'm not saying it's either-or, just that any approach to this needs to factor in poverty at levels that is incomprehensible to the Western middle class.

And yes, vaginas are great but any membrane suffers when in prolonged contact with foreign material. And again, access to antibiotics and antifungals is a worthwhile consideration when using small-but-still-higher risk sanitary products.


people with limited means might not want to cook with the same (only one they have)pot they use for that.


it probably still would be cheaper to buy an additional pot too, instead of a lifetime of pads


For this you need to first have the cash up-front to pay for a second pot only needed for one week a month.

The general economic problem behind this is common for people living from paycheck to paycheck. For example, a good pair of shoes will last over a decade but cost 100€ (=> less than 10€/year), while cheap shoes for 10€ last a year. Now the cost over 10 years is equal, and for any year the shoe lasts longer, the person saves money. But without access to non-predatory loans (such as payday lending, pawn shops, mafia loans or CCs >5% APR) the person can never realize the saving.


"The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness."


> But without access to non-predatory loans (such as payday lending, pawn shops, mafia loans or CCs >5% APR) the person can never realize the saving.

And that predator lending has now made the next purchase decision even more difficult than the last.


Not all women can wear cups comfortably.


Not sure I like this argument, pushing cups does not remove the existence of tampons or pads.

Some people can't comfortably fit on an airplane seat; this doesn't mean we should subsidy car travel for the whole country.


Actually many shapes, sizes, materials and brands exist. If you can use tampons or have sex without pain it's just a product fitting / usage / educational problem imo.


The availability of different sizes, materials, and brands is probably more limited in rural India.


I don’t understand why tampons and pads are the primary recommended methods for dealing with period blood (at least in the US). Cups are more sanitary, better-suited for extended internal use, and are often reusable. Some cups can even be worn during sex. I think it’s largely a matter of being uninformed, in turn likely because of the stigma associated with a perfectly natural bodily function.


> I think it’s largely a matter of being uninformed, in turn likely because of the stigma associated with a perfectly natural bodily function.

There's a lot of stigma there. Some women can't find comfortable cups, some have flows too heavy to use a cup, and some don't like the idea of washing out a bloody, clot covered menstrual cup in a public washroom's sink.


There's little profit to be made for a $30 lifelong purchase.


Share a product link?


Everywhere, pads and tampons should be looked at like toilet paper. Not taxed, put in toilets by whoever runs them, and in the rare case someone steals them - then OK they're obviously dirt poor no big deal.


In Australia, recently just about all maternity and menstrual related hygiene products got added to the Health Goods GST (10% tax) exemption list[0], along with few other like Condoms and Sunscreen that used to be there since 2011.

I suppose that is one step.

https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2018L01624

https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2011L02714


Also worth pointing out that most bathrooms in India do not have toilet paper - this is not a societal norm.


dankiz 23 days ago [flagged]

First, toilet paper is taxed at the same rates pads and tampons are.

Second, stealing is not OK. And if they put pads and/or tampons in toilets they'll disappear in a matter of minutes. If you think only a dirt poor woman would steal them, you are wrong.


Stealing is wrong, but there are products where, if someone were to steal them in small amounts, I'm kinda okay with it.

I have no experience with pads and tampons and I don't know if they belong in this category, but when I buy bread, I leave it in my bike while I buy other groceries. If someone were to steal my bread (hasn't happened yet), I'd assume they probably need it more than I do.


>there are products where, if someone were to steal them in small amounts, I'm kinda okay with it.

Okay. I am not. We could have a national referendum, "are you okay with people stealing your stuff?". Let's see what happens.

The day the bread disappears from your bike, I can assure the chances that someone is going to eat it are slim. He'll probably just throw it away for laughs.


This is a really odd stance to take; and a horrible argument.

It's not "OK" to steal anything, but you risk toilet paper being stolen by having it in a public place. The loss of a roll (or 2) of toilet papers is very low compared to the convenience of not having to bring your own toilet roll everywhere.

We live in a society and that involves a certain level of (policed) trust, if the cost of having a great convenience is that it sometimes gets stolen then if the cost is low enough and the convenience is high enough it's worth it.


Toilet paper containers are usually locked in public places.


You could very easily create containers for tampons and pads that only give you one at a time.

If you wanted to be slightly more "evil" you could easily make it so removal of the pads would pull away part of the plastic seal; making them impossible to sell and harder to hoard.


In fact such dispensers have been created.

https://www.uline.com/Product/Detail/H-1018/Bathroom-Supplie...


Society decides that a certain degree of criminal activity is 'acceptable' in some sense all the time. That's why, even though it would reduce crime, we don't double our policing budget. At some point we decide that the expected reduction in crime isn't worth the extra expenditure.


No, we deem that the return after a certain point is smaller than the return when invested elsewhere. That does not mean we accept or condone crime. I know someone who lives in Houston. Houston is the "human trafficking capital of the world", so the police are rather busy. This friend had someone smash his window and steal his brand-new leather briefcase with his brand-new laptop inside. The police barely managed to take a police report, because they are "busy".

The problem with allowing a "certain amount of crime" is that it's inherently a bright-line issue. What level is acceptable? What dollar amount? Bread is okay but a laptop is wrong; where in between those does the line fall?


Accepting something might happen, while explicitly stating that it's wrong as mcv did, isn't equatable to condoning it. Nothing that has been said in this thread can be reasonably construed as condoning crime.

It's pretty obvious what was being said. I don't think nit picking technical objections based on exaggerations and then extending from minor tampon pilferage to robbery with violence is constructive.


For me it's a bit more than accepting it might happen. If someone is so hungry that they have to steal bread, I hope they will steal my bread. For two reasons: bread is a really basic necessity. You starve if you can't eat. Fortunately almost nobody is that desperate, but if they are, I can't blame them for trying to stay alive. Secondly: bread is cheap. I can easily afford to lose some and not care. If it helps someone stay alive, then I'm glad.

And I'm not the only one who thinks this way. A Dutch bishop has said something similar a decade or so ago. To some controversy, because condoning crime, but if your life is at stake, you've got to do what you've got to do. Of course society has some responsibility to ensure nobody ever gets that desperate, and seems to be doing a reasonable job at that, since nobody has stolen my bread yet. But if they did, I'd be fine with it.

To get back to the original topic: I don't think sanitary pads and tampons are quite on the same level of bread, but I still don't see theft from public toilets as a serious source of concern.


Love how you managed to slip some xenophobia in this completely unrelated argument.


  > The day the bread disappears from your bike, I can assure the chances that someone 
  > is going to eat it are slim. He'll probably just throw it away for laughs.
Why? What's so funny about throwing away someone's bread?

If you think destroying someone's property is funny, then throwing the entire bike into the canal, or destroying a car, is probably far more laughs. And indeed there are people who do that, sadly. But it's fairly rare, and nobody seems to care much about bread.

What does happen is people using the crate on my bike as a trash can. I hate that. That's not something I'm okay with.


>Stealing is wrong, but there are products where, if someone were to steal them in small amounts, I'm kinda okay with it.

If you are OK with someone taking something then by definition it cannot be stolen. The kids on Halloween aren't stealing candy. Another example would be if we were best friends and I borrowed your lawnmower without asking: it would be stealing if you didn't want me to do that but if I knew you were fine with it that would be just fine.

If you want to put something in public bathrooms and if you want it to be fine for people to take it out with them, what you're proposing is not even slightly comparable to "legalized stealing," you're just proposing that we should give away free stuff. (Hey, it works fine with water.)


There are two sides to that: intent of the thief and intent of the owner. If you borrow my lawnmower, even if I'm not okay with it, you may still, from your perspective, be borrowing it and bring it back. If someone takes my bread, I may not have a big problem with that, but if I hadn't put up a sign saying: "Free bread, please take some", the thief wouldn't know and wouldn't have permission to take it.

The issue is easy when both sides agree on what it is, but there's grey area in between.


> First, toilet paper is taxed at the same rates pads and tampons are.

In Germany they aren't. Tampons are "luxury articles" here, which was questioned a lot in the past, yet nothing happened.


As is bottled water btw, but not juice.


In Germany bottled water IS a luxury - you don't need to buy bottled water. If juice came from water fountains, they could probably consider that a luxury item as well.


In some places the water tastes really horrible. It's of course safe to drink, but it tastes horrible. I don't think this is a good argument (I know it's not yours).


> And if they put pads and/or tampons in toilets they'll disappear in a matter of minutes. If you think only a dirt poor woman would steal them, you are wrong.

Why? If every single bathroom everywhere had them why would you bother to steal them? They are free.


1. I don't know if you live in India or the US or somewhere else, but that's awesome. You however don't know where I live so please stop correcting me on 'facts' that aren't relevant worldwide. They're classed as 'luxury goods' in the UK: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42013239

2. People steal toilet paper all the time. It's not considered a big deal, probably because every loo has toilet paper - I'm sure you see the point here. If someone steals it from a cafe for their house (which happens, if you've worked in the service industry) nobody really cares.


In developing countries, I think it's a different story. I've visited my fair share of countries where public toilets don't have toilet paper. Or, someone stands at the door collecting payments, asks if you need toilet paper, and they take some sheets off the roll for you to use. If you put toilet paper in these kind of countries, it just disappears instantly. People have difficultly affording it when they make a dollar or two per day.

For a similar comparison, imagine if toilet paper costed $20 a roll in the US. Suddenly, it's being stolen everywhere from public places. Businesses can't afford to stock it in their toilets, as they can easily lose hundreds of dollars a day from theft. People also have trouble affording it at home, so it's not common in households. People are stealing entire rolls or filling their pockets with sheets because they can't afford to buy it. There's also suddenly a market for stolen toilet paper. People start stealing it from public toilets, and selling it for half price, $10 a roll on the street. Now we're in a situation like developing countries. This is why toilet paper is never provided, or you pay for a few sheets.

For the same reason, you can't stock pads and tampons in these countries. You said it yourself, stock them like toilet paper. Well, free toilet paper doesn't work in these places.

I don't know the solution. I would assume you need to give people ID numbers or stamps, and they can freely pickup N pads or tampons per month from a secure building.


Totally support everything you've said. They should be looked at like toilet paper in places that can afford to give away toilet paper.


If they're classed as 'luxury goods', why are they being taxed at a lower VAT rate than standard goods? That seems a particularly odd combination.


Essentials, like food, are at 0%. From Sep 2018:

https://www.thesun.co.uk/money/6657416/period-poverty-uk-tax...

> Then-Chancellor George Osborne said he was not allowed to lower the VAT rate because of EU rules that class sanitary products as "luxury" or "non-essential".

> Equalities minister Victoria Atkins also said VAT would be scrapped as soon as Britain leaves the EU.


Well, the EU agreed that they could be 0% rated in March 2016.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35834142

If the Government haven't addressed it, it's entirely down to their own instransigence, no?


> Well, the EU agreed that they could be 0% rated in March 2016.

That was only 3 months prior to the vote to leave.

> If the Government haven't addressed it, it's entirely down to their own instransigence, no?

I suspect the UK government has been, you know, busy since then.


That’s what successive British governments of both sides have done for decades. Blame the EU


More here Disposable Pads Are A Hazard, A Look At Some Alternatives https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/disposable-pads-...


At the YC Bangalore event last year, we had a guy who was developing a disposable and water soluble pad. The pricing was too high for these things to be mass market, though.

Unfortunately I don't remember the name. But it would have an interesting product for a startup.


[flagged]


At the risk of sounding authoritarian (luckily only in the domain of trivial internet comments), could you please not post like this and follow the guidelines instead?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


[flagged]


Yes, instead of giving any shits about anything outside our borders, let's all look inward and think real hard about the long-foretold-with-wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth "disintegration of Western society", to which a rigidly self-centered mindset certainly couldn't be a contributor!


>Such things are just an unconscious way of shifting the focus from the disintegrating Western society.

What are you on about?


Some of us don't care about "Western society" as much as "humans". Also, some of the people on this site are, spoiler, from Asia! They might be interested in this.

But you do you bro.


[flagged]


We've banned this account for trolling.


Its a developing nation with its share of problems. Was this snark really necessary?


trust me, look at america and the states living in poverty, you dont need to have good sanitation to qualify as a superpower, you need money


[flagged]


Not sure why you were downvoted. I think you made an interesting point that i hadn't considered. You said it's your "pet theory" and people don't have to agree with it or provide counter facts. I would rather infer that it was probably to protect others around her from the so called "infection" rather than the woman herself. Either way doesn't preclude the fact that religion and societal structures(and just all around ignorance) have to share the majority of the blame here.


probably had something to do with the comment in the end. i agreed with everything up to that point. it's like blaming the car/alcohol for all the alcohol related car crashes that happen.

just because some sociopathic asshole decides to be oppressive and they happen to follow a certain religion all of a sudden their religion is to blame?


>just because some sociopathic asshole decides to be oppressive and they happen to follow a certain religion all of a sudden their religion is to blame?

Yes, when that religion and the culture around it not only encourages that oppression, but discourages negative consequences for that oppression, and propagates that oppression across generations, and sometimes defends it with the force of law, then religion should justifiably carry the blame.

In the case of menstruation and other women's issues, what should merely be medical and hygiene concerns are conflated into "the will of God" because a holy book or scripture says that women and their bodies are impure, and as a result the imposition of religious dogma upon society has had a direct and negative consequence for women that it hasn't had for men, or that it likely wouldn't have in a purely secular context.


[flagged]


Religion had nothing to do with it. Egomaniacs and sociopaths did, in the name of religion.


Who do you think invented/supported religion? What do you suppose their motivation was?


The rest of the involved people are guilty for silent approval.


Or, they were all living under the same tyranny.


[flagged]


Has it ever occurred to you to simply... not click on an article that does not interest you, and simply move on? Shocking, I know.


"anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."


As recently as 70yrs ago, women needed to drain all blood in a utensil. That's why the tradition was formed of 'women staying in one room one corner during periods'

This was due to obvious reason that if she moves then it'll make everything bloody. The issue is, people don't understand the reason behind such traditions.

Funny anecdote.

A guru had 4 students. They used to meditate together by lighting a small bonfire. Now the guru had a cat so he asked his students to bring a rope so he could tie the cat.

50yrs later guru passed away and now their tradition is 'have meditation near bonfire' but bring a cat and a rope and tie it outside the room.

Failure to understand the reason behind traditions makes ppl think women r impure. They used to be impure during periods when there weren't sanitary napkins. But now its not the case.


> This was due to obvious reason that if she moves then it'll make everything bloody.

First of all, that's not how menstruation works. Like, at all. Educate yourself.[1] I also don't know what the hell you're referring to when you say "utensil" but women throughout history had a lot of substitutes for the modern menstrual pad.[2] Contrary to you're very ignorant beliefs, they didn't just walk around bleeding all over the place until tampons were invented.

[1] https://ecofemme.org/menstruation-much-bleed/

[2] https://www.medicaldaily.com/menstrual-period-time-month-his...


You don't know what I'm referring to when I say about utensil because you don't know what Indian women used in those times before pads were invented. If you don't know the fact, stop assuming you are right and I am ignorant. Because in this case you are the ignorant one

Did you not read the rest of the post? Or are you the kind of person who reads only one sentence and then goes on a lecture spree?

I have read what I have said about the "utensil" in books written in my mother tongue.

You won't be able to read them unless you learn the language but I will be happy to provide the name and even the book if you are interested.

Don't assume I am an idiot who doesn't know what I am talking. But in India women used a utensil in a special room which they did not leave until their periods ended. That's the reality and that's why women weren't allowed tomove around in the house those days

I have literally seen grandmothers restricting their daughter in law to a corner during the girls period. This happened in 2017.

They don't understand the reason behind the tradition. Just follow blindly


> They used to be impure during periods when there weren't sanitary napkins.

Are you saying women used to be impure before pads? Are you serious?


They bled. The blood would've made them technically "impure"

This blind retarded logic is used by religious retards now


thats not what he/she is saying


That's exactly what they're saying:

> They used to be impure during periods when there weren't sanitary napkins. But now its not the case.


You seem to not understand what you are reading. If you bleed then the blood is on your body. That makes you technically "impure"

The same logic is being peddled by retards in this century to say women r imoure during periods.

Learn to read objectively and if you can't then keep your ignorant thoughts with yourself otherwise you go around announcing your ignorance.


Re-read parent.


I wonder how many of the posters here pontificating on various methods/products are women, and how many men have actually discussed this topic in depth (no pun) with females they know personally. As a man, I think men must stop being opinionated wrt two specific matters about women - menstruation and childbirth - as its impossible for us to imagine/simulate the real ordeal.


I have informed opinions on many things that I can't personally experience.


You realize this is an opinion right? That even the stance of "let the people this affects make the decision" is a position you're choosing to take.

Also: NOBODY thought that was a pun. Ew.


A marketing pitch for sanitary pads. Cloth and traditional alternatives worked wonderfully in India for thousands of years, but who listens..

>>Nielsen, a research firm, estimates that around 70% of women in the country cannot afford sanitary products: 300m use unhygienic alternatives like newspapers, dry leaves and cotton rags.


>>70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene

From the article. I don't agree with your assessment that these "traditional alternatives" are working "wonderfully".


Have you been in India? Do you know anything about menstural hygiene?


I'm not so sure that dry leaves work just as well as pads.




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