Sanitary pads have always been a big issue when I was in STF. It’s always highlighted by the HEM and Puan Pengetua during our weekly assembly in the big hall. One can never guess how much trouble sanitary pads can bring. We women (young girls back then) understood that it’s one of our basic necessities but it never occurred to some of us how the mis-management could be disastrous.
It was 1988 when Rentokil first came to the school to brief us all on how to properly dispose our ‘bloody’ sanitary pads. At the beginning of the session, the representative from Rentokil showed us a tiny tampon. Well, I think about 80% of us didn’t even recognize that thing until one of the juniors asked her friend and a few seniors overheard her. The senior answered loudly, ‘Itu tampon la dik, function dia sama macam pad.’
Then the Rentokil representative showed us how the tampon expanded 20 times over after it’s soaked in tap water for more than half an hour. Our usual wide smiles transformed into big 'O's when we saw that. For the next 10 minutes or so we were lectured on how that tiny tampon can cause blockage in the drainage system… yadda… yadda… yadda… I think she didn’t demonstrate how big a normal (or winged) sanitary pad would expand if it’s soaked in tap water, perhaps she didn’t have a big enough container for that experiment.
So, after everyone understood the importance of managing and disposing our sanitary pads properly, the next weekend every toilet in the school was equipped with Rentokil feminine hygiene unit (that’s the pad disposer lah). The dorm prefects were very happy as their headache will be lesser once the girls started to use the thing.
Prior to having Rentokil in our hostel life, I couldn’t really remember how we disposed our pads. I remember having to wash and wrap them nicely with the newspapers we hang nicely in every toilet. The dorm on duty to wash toilet for the week will have to prepare the newspapers for this purpose. I couldn’t remember whether there was a dedicated waste basket for the nicely wrapped pads. But the washing and wrapping issue was raised many times during block meetings especially when some girls were unbelievably forgetful that they left their pads in the toilets and didn’t go through the boring ritual. It was not an easy thing to tackle; educating the new girls were challenging enough and when we found out even some of the seniors did that too, we were left speechless, didn’t know what to do.
Okay, now fast forward to 2010, to the recent UMNO general assembly to be specific. Why did so many people criticized and ridiculed Azura Mohd Afandi, the JB Puteri UMNO chief when she raised the issue of sanitary pad adverts? It’s a huge thing people!!! The disasters sanitary pads could bring can be bigger than KL flash flood or food poisoning cases in hostels.
For open-minded-modern-urban people (guys included), sanitary pad adverts are just adverts – a way to promote a product. You watch it on TV, you know about the product, you’ll buy it if you’re interested and that’s it. It’s not a big deal. Some of the adverts didn’t even register in your head – which brand was that? What’s the pad that features 2 big melons in the advert? Or what’s that pad advert that has people snapping photos of their butt? Well, I couldn’t remember their brands either.
However, we can’t discount the fact that there exist perverts, shallow Hals, people who lacks sex education (hey, most of us are – it’s not part of our school curriculum), sex maniacs and even those with unbelievably advance imaginations. I was told by my primary school friends that some of their uncles could smell women’s period and it turned them on. Wah, I was so scared when I heard about it. How could the smell of blood turn men on? The scariest part was I knew their uncles, and they looked like really nice adults.
During high school, some of our female teachers also reminded us to keep a certain distance from the male teachers when we’re having our period due to the same reason. So, it must be true if that came from our teachers, right? So, everytime we had our period, we had to be extra careful. Don’t stand too close to the male teachers. Don’t walk pass by the male teachers. Don’t give them any clue that you’re having your period. If you buy pads from the co-op, make sure it’s wrapped with dark papers before putting them in the plastic. And when we were younger (form one and form two) we were told not to mention that we’ve already reached puberty. During that innocent age, we just obliged. Being the good girls we were, we never questioned the instructions given by our female teachers – Ustazahs especially.
However, when I grew up and thought about that, hey something must be very wrong with our society. What is the problem with women having our regular menses? It’s fitrah what? Why can’t men deal with it and accept it as just another normal thing like feeling hungry or sleepy. Those are also fitrah manusia.
Whether we like it or not, discussions on puberty, menstruation period, sanitary pads and anything related to women reproduction system is still very much a sensitive thing in our society. Some mothers and grandmothers still consider them as taboo. Actually I’d love to see reactions from very traditional men who live in the remotest kampong in this country when they watch the sanitary pad advert that features the two melons. They might be disgusted, tickled to their bones or suddenly turned on. I don’t know. More experiments need to be done.
In the meantime (while waiting for some NGO that are interested to organize the experiment), I just want to say that there’s nothing wrong with Azura’s speech and the issue she raised. We all came from different upbringing; we look at things differently. The saddest thing is, most of the scenes you watch in the Cerekarama or Telefilm shown in our local TV stations happen in real life. We never know if incest cases or gang rapes were caused by sanitary pad adverts, but perverts and people with uncontrollable raging hormones exist everywhere.
To Azura, we know you meant well but it’s always wiser to support a concern or theory with survey results and analysis, statistics and recognized studies.