‘It’s a blessing that women bleed, not a curse!’

New Delhi: Indians have a long way to go before they get comfortable talking taboos. Women’s health is one such topic. When a girl undergoes hormonal changes and begins her first menstrual cycle, she is often shunned from taking part in day-to-day activities, which in turn makes her feel diminished. And thus begins the vicious cycle of a woman being “selfless”, which continues till her 40s when she feels guilty if she cooks her favourite dish instead of her family’s!

Keeping this in mind, India’s first women’s health festival, FemmeCon 2018, was organised by the award-winning FemTech platform for women’s health, TheaCare, recently. With an idea to spread awareness on women’s health, the day-long programme touched on several topics pertaining to menstrual health, daily hygiene, body positive imagery, women’s mental health, and fertility, and eventually work towards de-stigmatising tabooed topics.

Among the speakers were Anika Parashar (COO, Fortis La Femme), Ariana Abadian-Heifetz (Author, Spreading Your Wings, a menstrual hygiene comic by Zubaan), Priyanka Nagpal Jain (Founder, Hygiene and You), Srilekha Chakravarti (Gender rights activist and Vice-curator, Global Shapers Kolkata), Vikas Bagaria (Founder, PeeSafe) and Vithika Yadav (Co-founder and Head, Love Matters India), who discussed “Women’s health in India: Where are we now and the road ahead?”

Body positive imagery

Ariana Abadian-Heifetz shared her experience of growing up in a body-positive home where she never felt rejected because she had a woman’s body. Girls deserve to feel the same way around the world, felt the author of the menstrual hygiene comic who had worked with several underprivileged children in India.

“I cared less about whether girls are being allowed to do puja or enter the kitchen, and focused my work on making them understand how it is a natural process, rather a blessing, for women to bleed, and not feel bad about their body. With the use of pictures and constructive learning we explained to the kids that there’s no reason for them to hate themselves, yet we kept in mind not to smash the stigma that resides in their family’s mind, since that might generate a very difficult conversation between her and her mother,” said Ariana, stressing on the importance of a body positive environment for girls.

This approach in itself will reduce half the problems faced by women in society.

Involvement of men

Another important matter of discussion is the involvement of men in women’s hygiene. Men in the family must also have the knowledge of the enormity women’s health issues have in the development of society. The only man on the panel, Vikas Bagaria, pointed out how sometimes men are discouraged from taking part in such conversations. “Men want to participate in conversations around women’s health but many a time they face stigma from their closed ones, as their motives are often questioned,” he said.

Focus on daily hygiene

While most discussions on women’s health were about menstrual hygiene, Bagaria said one’s daily hygiene must also be stressed upon. “Now, it’s time to talk about the daily hygiene of women, like Urinary and Reproductive Tract Infections. Out of the 3% of the health budget of
the GDP, only 20% is on women’s health. We have to change that.”

Focus on mental health

Mental health of a woman is equally important. As pointed out by Srilekha Chakravarti, women in tribal and rural areas often do not remember the age of their children, or even themselves, in the melee of giving birth and working towards the “welfare” of her family. This needs to change and pressure should be shared by both women and men in a family.

Swarnima Bhattacharya

Swarnima Bhattacharya shared: “At our first birthday, we thought it was time to increase the scale and involve all stakeholders, from industry experts to health journalists, from entrepreneurs to students to understand the issues from all aspects and deliberate on solutions.
It is important that women’s health comes out of the shadows and is no longer a taboo topic.”

The festival also showcased locally developed products like biodegradable pads, eco-friendly pads, and female pee-buddy aid. A reading zone had various feminist literature books for interested readers.