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“When We Talk About Menstruation Or Hygiene, People Think It Is A Sex Worker, Your Opinions Don’t Matter.”

Youthkiawaaz 2020-07-22 18:36:00

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

In a culture where both periods and sex work are stigmatised; talking about both at the same time has only attracted silence and ignorance. Periods are typically not discussed outside a comfort zone. Similarly, sex work is spoken of in hushed tones.

A question that often pops up in conversations on periods and sex work is; how menstruation impacts the financial of sex workers. What steps do they have to take to mitigate its impact? How is their health affected? What about their emotional well-being? Do they work while on periods?

Period sex is often seen as dirty, so menstruating for 2-3 days means a loss of income. A sex worker who chose to stay anonymous answered, “If we didn’t, it would be a 1-week unpaid vacation every month of which when you are running a business, or you have a career or just any job that you are dedicated to, it’s not practical.” She also mentioned women use birth control to stop their periods or use a sponge to stop the flow of the blood.

Alternatives Used During Menstruation

Periods are stressful, more so when they impact your income. So alternatives to cleanly manage them have been devised. The first suggestion, the sponge, is the alternative that came up most consistently from sex workers when dealing with the periods.

“I had to use a sponge … and continue to work when I was menstruating … I feel my heart is broken,” expressed one of the sex workers who had been forced to work while on her periods. But this practice can be risky sometimes. As shared by Maria Moore, “I did get a sponge stuck once and had to have my gynaecologist remove it.

Josephine explains how pre-booking is difficult too, “My period is irregular and therefore exhausting when it comes without warning when it comes to pre-bookings.”

We often view commercials that promote happy periods for working women. We also ask advocate for menstrual leaves, but for a profession far away from labour rights, it is not a reality.

“I get the day off. No business that day” said one woman. “I get time to do something for myself,” said another. But the reality is different for sex workers in India. Having periods does not mean a holiday. Those three days often mean three days of no work. Some sex workers choose not to work during menstruation, but many have no choice. Some sex workers even opt for removing their uterus altogether to relieve themselves from the monthly hindrance.

The Health Implications

Lack of formal education and poverty impact their health. Some of them do not have enough money even to buy sanitary napkins. According to a study conducted by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DSMC), 40% of sex workers use cloth pads during menstruation. “In the red light district, cloth doesn’t dry properly,” Dr Jana says. This leads to infections which could be avoided had menstrual hygiene been practised.

Unfortunately, the other side of the coin is the stigma associated with menstruation and sex work. Sex workers do not receive any respect and are often deprived of fundamental human rights, including access to WASH facilities. Around 31% of sex workers living in these areas remain financially unstable, making them vulnerable to disease.

Even if they are aware of their rights, there is the part played by discrimination against and fault in policies. “I am a sex worker by profession,” said Sultana, “and therefore, society treats us as outcasts. When we talk about menstruation or hygiene, people think it is a sex worker, your opinions don’t matter.” She requested to include sex workers in the survey conducted before building the toilets nation under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Voices Of The Sex Workers

In India, the exact number of sex workers is unknown. But according to the United Nations, the 2016 year estimate was around 657,800. There are rarely any studies that have determined their general health problems, much less about menstrual hygiene management. Little attention has been paid to their menstrual hygiene needs. It is high time any conversation on MHM has to include sex workers within its ambit too.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

Also read: Has Your Father Talked To You About Periods Yet?

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