How Women Labourers, Farmers, Housemaids & Hawkers Toil Through Their Periods To Feed Their Families

Sayantani Nath Gujarat

May 22nd, 2019 / 5:43 PM

As World Menstruation day approaches us on May 28th, the topic may be out in the open but the stigma remains in the society as a whole. #MenstrualHygieneWeek is a campaign by The Logical Indian to create awareness, ask pertinent questions, get answers and bust myths.

“Even with the pain and discomfort, our work cannot stop during that time of the month. I have kids, I have a family to feed. I cannot afford to lose three or four days’ wages,” shares Rekha Ben, a small-scale farmer from Sabarkantha, Gujarat. She referred to periods in a hushed tone as if scared to even utter it, while women sitting around agreed with what she said.

Rekha Ben is one among lakhs of women farmers, labourers, factory workers, domestic maids and others across India for whom period woes are a monthly ordeal that they must endure silently. These feisty women engage in hard labour, they cannot demand period leaves and popping a pill instantly to control cramps is beyond their option.

The Logical Indian reached out to a few such brave women to hear their stories. Most of them made sure they were in a secluded place, away from the curious eyes, before they opened up.

On periods, She Lifts Heavy Load & Stands All Day

“I cannot halt my business just because of periods. Sometimes, if the cramps are too much, I take medicine. Other than that, nothing is different from any normal day,” says Chandra Shwetha, who runs a small food cart in south Bengaluru.

She lifts enormous tumblers of steamed rice and stands all day serving food to hungry customers with no exception even during periods.

On periods, She Labours At A Construction Site

Despite many medical practitioners advising against heavy physical exertion during periods, some women have no choice, Sangeetha, a construction labourer tells us.

“I use pads. It is very uncomfortable to work wearing cloth rags for there is always the fear of leakage and staining. Stomach cramps happen at times, but I have to work through all of it. How else will I feed my family?” she reveals.

On periods, Her Village Outcasts Her

“Periods are a real hassle for me. I go through severe abdominal cramps, back pain and fatigue. For those three or four days, I would feel nauseous all throughout the day. But how many times can I ask for leaves? They will tell me not to come anymore,” shares a 40-year-old woman who works as a housemaid in Bengaluru.

She toils through heavy bleeding, mopping the floors, washing clothes or doing the dishes.  

On the condition of anonymity, she details a distressing account of how in her village, women are still isolated during their periods. “You will have to stay in a dingy corner of a room for three days. They will provide you with a glass, a plate and a bedsheet.”

“You are only allowed to stay there and use the washroom. No roaming around the house or entering the kitchen. Going anywhere near the Puja room or any temple is out of the question,” she adds.

Gujarat Women Feed Families

On periods, She Cannot Afford Leave

Bulti, a mother of two who works as a domestic help in Kolkata, shares, “The pain is terrible some months. I have to take medicines, but I simply cannot fail to turn up at work. I will lose my wages.”

“But pads have helped provide me with some relief. Earlier, while using cloth rags, I would always be worried about leaks and stains. I would have to rush back home every now and then to change. The rags didn’t dry well in our small room as there is no sunlight. I contracted vaginal infection. That’s when the doctor advised me to switch to pads.”

She shares another trend which is increasingly gaining momentum.

“I take medicines to postpone my periods if there is a religious festival. The pain becomes unbearable the following month,” she shares.

Bulti is one among many Indian women who are unknowingly inflicting harm on their bodies by taking pills that delay period, under no medical supervision, just for religious and social events.

The Logical Indian take

Be it Gujarat’s Rekha Ben, Bengaluru’s Sangeetha or Kolkata’s Bulti, women in hard labour have always had to brave their period troubles to cater to basic necessities.

While period-friendly laws and norms are still a far cry in Indian society, be it urban or rural, the best we can do is to cooperate and support these women whose voices often remain unheard, and if possible, sanction paid leaves, permit small work break among others.

What does menstruation mean to you? Do you twitch a bit or sit uncomfortably at the mere mention? Want to share your experience? write to us at [email protected], remember to hashtag #MenstrualHygieneWeek


Written by : Sayantani Nath

Edited by : Bharat Nayak

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