Monthly period or the menstruation cycle is as natural a phenomenon as motherhood or childbirth, yet this occurrence and the word "period" itself is a taboo in our society.
Even buying sanitary napkins in pharmacies creates embarrassment. Some sellers enhance it by wrapping up the packets like secret treasure boxes.
In many households, television commercials on sanitary napkins still make family members, male and female, uncomfortable while watching them together.
May 28 was World Menstrual Hygiene Day (also known as MH Day) and a post on it by Unicef Bangladesh on their social media page had garnered around 3000 comments. I was appalled to notice that most of them were extremely negative.
So I decided to spare few hours to read those comments and understand the mentality of our mass towards period.
Some of these disturbing comments included "a serious step should be taken to stop this kind of vulgar post", "oi you idiot, you do not have any sister or mother at home?", "women should never talk about this", and many, many more.
Looking at those comments, I came up with three conclusions.
The first one, these people probably lack knowledge on menstruation, and they do not know the significance of this day.
The second one, the day probably got entangled with wrong religious interpretations, and the third one, these people probably have been neglecting womanhood and women, socially and historically.
The objective of MH Day is to make men and women of the world aware about women's health and menstrual hygiene.
In 2013, the German non-profit Wash United initiated this day. The organisation is the overall global coordinator of MH Day and acts as its international secretariat.
Poor supply chain and high price of sanitary napkins, and insufficient knowledge on nutrition and medicine during menstruation makes many women suffer.
The social taboo related to period also makes it more difficult for them. Moreover, many low-income women do not even know what a sanitary napkin is.
The menstrual hygiene movement initiates mass channelling of information regarding period and female hygiene and also pushes governments and authorities to make sanitary products more available for mass women.
Using a napkin for long or replacing pads with unsanitary materials can cause fungal infections, urinary tract infections and can also harm women's fertility and reproductive ability.
BBC Bangla reported that "Approximately 95 percent of women in Bangladesh do not use sanitary napkins because they are unavailable or unaffordable. Instead, women and girls often use old rags and husk sand which often causes severe reproductive health problems such as reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer."
Synthetic pads sometimes cause skin reactions and there are hardly any biodegradable napkins available in our markets.
Napkin prices usually start from Tk200 per packet and can go upto Tk600-Tk700. The lowest you can find is Joya Belt – Tk110 a packet – yet too expensive for general women.
According to a survey by BBC, sanitary napkin prices can be cut down by 40 percent to make it more affordable for consumers.
Ella Pads, made from reusable waste, are being manufactured in the country. It is a great example of sustainable production but the products are yet to reach market shelves and are currently only available for RMG factory workers.
Government hospitals use a special napkin priced Tk1, but that too is commercially unavailable.
The NBR VAT Wing waived import taxes on some seven key raw materials which are required for producing sanitary napkins and diapers.
But a 15 percent VAT remained the same on sales and import of finished products. Naturally, local producers do not lower prices and their products cost almost the same as imported napkins.
Another problem is that public toilets in the country are not women-friendly and there is a huge necessity of supplying free sanitary napkins to schools and colleges.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the state of women's menstrual hygiene has worsened in many countries around the world.
Production and supply of napkins have decreased and female doctors on duty and wearing PPEs cannot change napkins for several hours.
But it is high time we break the taboos surrounding period and put an end to the culture of not talking about it.
Among the 3000 comments in Unicef's post, the most common ones were something like "women are our mothers, we have to respect her, so do not post these things".
I would like to tell them that my dear brothers and sisters, real respect towards our mothers and sisters would be shown by paying attention towards their menstrual health and hygiene.
When I got my period, I was fortunate to have sufficient supply of sanitary napkins and other hygiene products. I also had access to information on women's health. But I knew many young girls who had to use pieces of cloth instead of pads.
Staining during period is probably a nightmare for most girls who use homemade pads. We women have grown up with the mental stress of facing period shaming and many of us still cannot talk about it. Historically, even our mothers or grandmothers could not speak about it.
But it is time to speak up. It is time to talk about menstruation, the issues related to it, and women's rights to avail sanitary products and medication.
Not only for women, but it is also time for men in our households to become more aware about menstruation hygiene.
Men should ensure that their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, people close to their hearts, have an ideal atmosphere to talk about menstruation. There should be no secrets in discussing about it.
Let us break the silence, save our women and provide them with menstrual hygiene facilities.
The writer is a faculty member at Northern University Bangladesh and manager, communications, Gen Lab.