Of Sanitary Napkins, Condoms, and Other Things that Women Can’t Buy

In a country that labels the birth of a girl child with ill-fate, disgrace and burden, how far can girls go?

I am a woman- an educated, qualified, working professional of modern India. I am a daughter, a sister, a daughter-in-law, a wife, and a mother. As I struggle and juggle among my distinct roles, I notice other women around me, other mothers, wives, daughters, and professionals. I cannot ignore a trend that has gripped India since decades- Indian women are living in the shadows of sexism and patriarchy. What more disturbing? That women themselves accept and propagate these customs.

Growing up as a woman in India

“Congratulations, it is a girl!”

These words are fictitious and bear no resemblance to reality. What we hear upon the birth of a girl child are rather, “Oh no, another girl?”, “Don’t lose heart, God will bless you with a son next time”, “It’s a girl, but don’t worry. You will have better luck next time”.

In a country that labels the birth of a girl child with ill-fate, disgrace and burden, how far can girls go? Even if they are not murdered inside their mother’s womb and allowed to be born, our society ensures that she grows up contemplating the reason for her existence.

In many parts of the country, girls are not sent to school but their brothers are. Education brings enlightenment and empowerment, the parents think. With these two weapons, girls will turn into rebels, perhaps. Rebels against what? Against the sexist and patriarchal Indian society? Or against people who reek of discrimination and biases against them?

Whatever the reason may be, the hard-hitting fact remains that Indian girls do face a lot of discrimination while growing up. Many of us might not realise this, fortunately, because we don’t see it happening in our family. If, however, we take a close look around us, we will be able to see it.

Embracing womanhood with shackles

As if being brought up differently was not enough, women are continuously made to think that they are the ‘weaker gender’. Weaker, not only in physical strength but also in mental strength and capabilities. Nothing is more unfortunate than making women believe this lie.

Indian women go through a lot of unnecessary drama throughout their life. Many girls, upon starting menstruation, are asked to follow certain rituals like not washing their head, not touching pickles, and not going to temples during those days of the month. These are still among the milder restrictions. Think about menstruating women sleeping in a shed outside the house, eating in separate utensils and them cleaning everything they touch. Yes, these things do happen in our country.

In a country where menstruation is considered disgraceful, how can we expect menstrual hygiene? In many places where sanitary napkins are available, girls rely on their mothers or aunties to buy them. Sanitary napkins are wrapped in a black polythene bag as if it is something that needs to be hidden from public view. Young girls are terrified to go and buy a packet themselves because it is better to ask an aunty rather than get the shopkeeper’s eyeballs rolling.

Then, there are some other items that are vital for females- oral contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and birth control measures. Very few women in India buy these commodities themselves. Women are the direct users of these items. Why is it so difficult for them to go and purchase them off the counter themselves?

A long way to go

False perceptions and skewed opinions are the number one cause of distress among Indian women. Just because we have been doing certain things in a particular manner since a long time, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop evolving. Being progressive in actions and thoughts is the need of the hour.We cannot empower women only by giving them education and employment. We also need to build a society that doesn’t judge or label men and women. Perhaps it will take a few more decades, if not more, to bring this positive change in our society. Until then, let’s keep working towards it. Let us empower the women in our families before hoping for a change in our society. Let us make life a bit easier for a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a sister, and a mother in our home.

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