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We the Women: From menstruation to menopause—why so much silence?

India, reportedly, has 150 million living with menopause

we-the-women-sanjay-ahlawat Monalisa Padhee and Asha Rao presented with awards by Divya Maderna and Khushbu Sundar, at the We the Women event, of which THE WEEK is a part, anchored by Barkha Dutt | Sanjay Ahlawat

It was in 2004, when little Ankita Sharma wore her mother’s saree for the first time. She was happy and excited. The occasion was Teacher’s Day. However, as the day passed, her Hindi teacher spotted a red spot at the back of her saree. She slowly came to her and asked, “Ankita, did your mother give you a saree with a stain?”

Her teacher then whispered in her ear, “Go to the toilet. See if you are bleeding." Sharma’s world was shaken. She couldn’t move after hearing it, and was in tears, thinking she is going to die soon. She saw blood and was scared to death. Her sobs became louder and she refused to come out.

Similarly, Harmada-based Asha Rao was having lunch with her friends one fine day in 2012, when she found out that the stool she was siting on, had got a huge blood stain. She had got her first period when she was 13.

Today, Rao is 24, happily married, and works in her village Harmada (a small village in Rajasthan) to make young girls aware about menstruation, and, the older ones, about menopause. With her is her mentor and friend Monalisa Padhee (34), who runs programmes like Chhuppi Todein and Mera Swasthya, Mera Haq to make females aware about the journey from menstruation to menopause. The two women shared their journey with the audience at We The Women summit on March 4, in Jaipur.

As per the latest data from the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 71 per cent of adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation until they get their first period.

Padhee said, “Let’s start de-stigmatising the menstruation and menopause. Let’s have same spaces to talk about these issues. Talk to your partner, husband, friends. See how involved they are. If they aren’t, talk to them often. Make them understand your emotions, the changes your body is going through.”

Gautam Shetty from Bengaluru took to the stage and tried breaking the taboo around these issues faced by women and took the stage to talk about it. He informed that one of his colleagues, when she got her period for the first time, was asked to stay away from her home. Similarly, Delhi resident Jasmine Raskoti (30), visited her paternal grandparents’ house in 2018, where, she also faced this situation.

“On the day I got my period, I was asked to take bath and eat outside the house, and sleep away from my grandparents and the place of worship,” Jasmine told THE WEEK.

People today feel that when it comes to menopause, the conversation is even less. That’s the reason most of the people don’t recognise its causes and symptoms.

Dr Nozer Sheriar, gynaecologist and obstetrician from Mumbai, said, “Oprah Winfrey went to five doctors who could not tell her that she was going through menopause. We need to understand that every woman is different, has different causes and symptoms. Hence, everything needs to be individualised.”

India has 150 million living with menopause, reportedly.

“Majority of women (60 to 70 per cent) will experience symptoms of transition. 40 per cent are going to experience more symptoms and 10 per cent of symptoms are going to be severe and disruptive,” added Sheriar.

Dr Sunila Khandelwal from the International Menopause Society has been working extensively on menopause for the last 26 years. “We, as women, during menopause, ourselves need to come forward and say this is the transition, this is what I am going through and the males should understand that she is not irritable, she is not having any abnormal thing. It’s a biological marker of the transition, where the women is facing some hormonal turbulence,” she said.

She suggested that we all need to identify in our homes that the women going through menopause is just a transition in her body. A transition is neither a curse nor a disease. 

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