I am Meghan, but my friends in India know me as Meghna. I moved into a poor community in India, because I was on a quest to do good in the world. Little did I know it was the beginning of a personal journey. A journey to find my inner woman and walk alongside other women as they find theirs.
My first encounter with menstruation in India came during a Hindu wedding ceremony. (Well I guess the first encounter would have been my own, when I was praising my menstrual cup for the convenience!) But back to the wedding ceremony…me and two friends were on our way to the wedding, when one of them got her period. We went to the pharmacy and the man quickly put the pack of pads in a black plastic bag (the sign of shame). For the rest of the day I was taken to numerous religious rituals, but she was no where in sight. She was not able to participate, because she was seen as dirty, impure and unworthy of being in the presence of the Divine.
A few months later, a friend sent me an article on menstrual cups changing girls’ lives in Nepal. The article stated that many girls miss school or drop out completely because of their period. Once the girls are given a sustainable and empowering way to take care of their period, then they are able to continue school. At the point of reading the article, I had been using my menstrual cup for 8 years. It had revolutionized the way I saw my period and I was so inspired by the way it was revolutionizing girls lives in Nepal.
So, I started asking women in my community what they understood about menstruation. Most of them had no idea about menstruation before their first period. They did not know where the blood came from. They won’t enter the temple. They don’t touch food that others might eat. I was told that if a man looked at me while I was menstruating he would have to take a shower to be cleansed. The school girls I asked often miss at least two days every month because of their period. The reasons being pain and fear of stains. The sad thing is that these women don’t know why they do these things, they are following rules taught to them by their mothers. A cycle of dis-empowerment.
I knew I had to do something. I started researching and taking my menstrual cup around to ask women if they would use a menstrual cup and the majority said, “hell no!” (not a direct translation from Bengali). So, I did some more research and came across cloth pads. I learned how to make them myself and took my handmade pads around to ask if they’d use it and even though the quality was pretty terrible they liked the idea.
I knew many women in my community knew how to sew. At night, when you walk around you can hear the chattering machines down the lanes. I began asking the women how much they get paid for the sari blouses, petticoats and night dresses that they make in their home (it is totally appropriate in this culture to ask how much money people get). It comes out to be less than $.05 per piece they sew.
It was all coming together. We could hire women from the poor community, pay them a fair living wage to sew the cloth pads. We could export the pads to give people around the world a chance to empower women in India. The profit from those sales would then enable us to lead menstrual education seminars in schools, non-profits and other social businesses. All the while, taking the ‘taboo’ topic of menstruation and making it normal. Resulting in a sustainable, ethical social enterprise, called Shomota.
Shomota was born out of a hope to release the stigma of menstruation, to provide a way for girls to stay in school, to create jobs for women from poor communities and to establish a sustainable way to care for our environment. We empower women to learn about their bodies and work with their natural cycles, transforming how they see themselves. We are creating a cycle of empowerment, where empowered women empower women.
I get to wake up everyday, surround myself with empowered women. I get to take something that is shameful and turn it into normal conversation. I get to answer question after question about how a woman’s body works. How it carries the cycle of life within it’s womb. I get to create hope for a better world.
I feel deeply privileged with this life.