Poems have periods

"She loved biology. Wanted to be a doctor. Then biology took over. She never saw the inside of the school again." White letters on a blood-red background. These lines are part of a Facebook campaign, a piece of "Period Poetry". Athira Unni, a student from India, wrote the poem in English. She followed the call of the student initiative "The Haiku". With little poems, she turns against a major taboo in Indian society: female menstruation.

"We study medicine, are budding doctors - but not even we talked for a long time about the fact that women have their days," says medical student Sreya Salim. Instead, Sreya and her fellow students were ashamed. With the start of the "Haiku" campaign, they wanted to put an end to "Period Shaming". Sreya gave the impetus: "I felt ready to raise my voice, to argue, to rebel." That was two years ago. Since then, Sreya and several fellow students have collected over 100 short poems, so-called haikus, from all over India. Schoolchildren and students, especially medicine, wrote them. The verses are bursting with emotion. "Frustration, anger, shame, pain, hopelessness - everything is included," says Sreya.

"'Femininity', said her mother. 'Grown up', called her sister. 'Responsibility', warned her teacher. 'Locked up', the company clapped", thus Sreya sums up the situation of women in India in her poem. They are silent about their menstruation because society asks them to. Their silence is visible: in big cities they hide sanitary towels in brown bags after buying them or wrap them in newspaper - and rush home. In rural areas, where there are only small village shops, women often refrain from buying sanitary towels because they feel embarrassed in front of the male vendors. Buying tampons, which you have to introduce, is even less of an option for them, just like mentoring cups.

In addition, the Hindu faith is more firmly rooted in the countryside. "During menstruation, women are considered unclean for three to four days," says Heike Oberlin, Professor of Indology at the University of Tübingen. During this time, girls and women are not allowed to touch pickle, the popular pickled fruit and vegetables, or flowering plants. You are not allowed to enter the temple and the kitchen. While the rest of the family is sitting at the table, women sometimes have to eat their food on the floor or are not allowed to sleep in their own bed at night. Not even allowed to touch her own son after he died, Sona Vijay writes her grief off her mind: "She fed him, bathed him. She loved him. Now he's lying there, motionless, wrapped in white cloth. She mustn't touch him, they say. She's bleeding."

The religiously derived impurity has consequences: 23 percent of girls drop out of school after the onset of their first menstruation. Or the parents take their daughters out of school because they now consider them marriageable. Most of the time, however, girls stay away from class because they don't know how to control their bleeding.

Indian schools rarely have toilets, so girls don't have a place of retreat where they can take care of their intimate hygiene undisturbed. Especially with heavy bleeding, they are afraid that blood stains could give them away. That is why many of them do not even show up for class when they have their days - and are absent on up to 50 days a year. With serious consequences for their education.