Carrot, gooseberry, mango, lemon, onion, lime, cucumber…ah, pickles and chutneys. Salty, spicy and savory, these compulsory condiments are essential to enjoying any South Indian tali, and innumerable dishes throughout all of India. When a village woman is menstruating, however, she had better steer clear of this compulsory condiment. Why? Well, because pickles grazed by the hand of a bleeding woman will immediately rot and spoil, naturally. That’s right… umm, right?
Breaking the Silence
Am I poking fun at the sociocultural parameters that dictate the kitchen decorum for millions of women? Absolutely not. The origins of these notions, and the beauty of the cultures of India, in all of their complexities, are too huge to touch upon at this juncture. The point I am making is that religious taboo has carried into this age an authoritarian confidence that experiencing the beauty of menses, is filthy. It effects not only the woman, but those around her, to feel her touch is to be tainted. Some villages expect that women bathe numerous times a day, while maintaining their household responsibilities, while many more forbid her from bathing at all during her cycle. If alarmingly archaic ideals such as these are still silently shaping the day to day existence of women, how is it to be expected that issues of sanitation can even be approached?
We at Eco Femme believe that Education is Everything!
Organizing focus groups for women who are placed in a position of marginalized importance helps to peel back the layers of sanctioned coarseness that keep women silent, not only in terms of their cycles, but in all aspects of their lives. Through creating a non-threatening environment in which to share, intimate discussions begin. Rural women are given the opportunity to learn about their bodies, and examine what they have been told their entire lives: that they are dirty. The curriculum that Eco Femme has created guides other NGOs to facilitate these meetings.
Encouraging trust and receptiveness leads to more than just an understanding of menstrual sanitation. It is the birth of empowerment. Supporting Eco Femme’s mission means so much more than supporting environmental sustainability or a woman’s right to dignity, it means that you’re supporting the rising voices of women.