I interviewed Architect and period activist Sania Dogra to understand how her research on the Politics of menstruation in India has shaped her perspective about the world. She discusses some of her self-reflections, motivations, and advice she can give to aspiring and self-motivated young women.
Hello Sania! And thank you for accepting this week’s interview! To start, could you share with our readers a little bit about who you are, and the kinds of studies and activism you do regarding menstruation rights?
Hey Phoebe, thank you so much for giving me this amazing opportunity. I am super excited.
I am Sania Dogra from India. Soon after graduating as an architect, I felt the urge to work concretely towards creating social justice in the world. I then went on to pursue a Master’s in International Peace Studies from Soka University, Japan. As part of my Master’s thesis, I started researching the politics of menstruation in India. My project led me to deconstruct the politics of menstruation in an Indian context, and in 2020 I also started a small social media initiative called – the menstrual taboo challenge to celebrate Global Menstrual Hygiene Day. I was also a part of the first Menstrupedia changemakers fellowship 2020.
What inspired you to pursue this social movement?
I remember I attended a conference during which one of the speakers ended her session with the statistics that, at the current rate of change global gender gap will take 108 years to close, she questioned the audience, “are we okay to wait this long?” I was shaken to my core and wanted to yell out NO! this led me to scratch the surface further.
According to research, 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to the politics of menstruation. This statistic made me realize the urgency to tackle the issue at hand. Menstruation is not explicitly mentioned in the UN SDGs towards 2030, however menstrual health and hygiene is linked to various goals (SDG – 3.2, 4.5, 5, 6.3, 8, and 12), moreover, it leads to human rights violation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). All of this made it impossible for me to stay silent and I decided to strive to raise awareness and overcome the Politics of Menstruation.
How did the politics of menstruation and women’s rights direct your actions on what needs to change?
I am still on the journey of deconstructing the Politics of Menstruation in an Indian-specific context. I belong to the school of thought that menstrual rights are actually human rights. The first step for me was to un-learn the social construction around menstruation and then re-educate myself on it which helped me realize that not all women menstruate and not all menstruators are women. There are also members of the trans community who menstruate. Overlooking this huge menstruating population is a major politics within the politics of menstruation.
I realized that to overcome these politics at play open genuine dialogue needs to be held. The silence and stigma around menstruation need to be broken. This led me to start my initiative where I reached out to my social circle and asked them to empower each other by creating a chain of solidarity on social media and break the silence around menstruation. In a short span of three days, I was able to reach out to over 200 people, out of which 50 participated. The campaign received support from the global community and participation from Brazil, Panama, Mexico, Spain, and Italy.
Drawing upon my background as an architect I have also realized that it is our responsibility to design and create menstrual-friendly infrastructure.
Are there any personality traits or habits you think every leader should have?
Courage, compassion, and gratitude.
Leaders should work passionately for the betterment of society. Along with this, I believe that it is important for everyone more so for leaders to always have a clear purpose and a strong life philosophy to guide them.
Whose career inspires you, and why? Who do you admire?
Well, I have such a long inexhaustible list for this question. I am inspired by everyone around me, and I truly feel lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people. As a matter of fact Phoebe you inspire me to have the courage to be myself and embrace my individuality.
During my 2 years as a Master’s student at Soka University, I was deeply inspired by so many faculty members, especially my thesis advisor, Professor Tracey Nicholls. I was having a dialogue with her struggling to decide my thesis topic and during our discussion, something about menstruation came up, and she recommended I ponder about it. Honestly given the stigma around menstruation, I was apprehensive. It was only due to my advisor’s constant encouragement that I was able to gather the courage and break through the stigma within my own life.
I would also like to give a huge shout-out to the numerous empowered menstrual activists and educators who are fighting so hard to raise awareness and eradicate menstrual stigma. There are many incredible organizations in India with both male and female founders. They inspire me every time not to get up and not lose hope because if we look back, the menstrual landscape in India has improved many folds in the past decade, and looking at how far we have come gives me the hope to go on.
What are some of the major challenges you face in your social activism? And what keeps you motivated to solve them instead of quitting?
I like how you ask me ‘major’ challenges hahaha!
I think for me the biggest challenge was to break free from the shackles of the Politics of menstruation from my own life. Even though I grew up in a liberal family, I didn’t talk about menstruation with any male family member. The stigma and taboo around the issue is the biggest challenge. But I have definitely come a long way ahead. My friends and family members motivated me to continue fighting instead of giving up. I am so grateful to them for having my back and for indulging in meaningful dialogues with me.
There have been many times when I felt discouraged and want to stop, but then I remember the horrifying statistics and stories of menstrual trauma which really push me to create change. Even if I can help one menstruator break free from the politics of menstruation, I feel my struggle will be worth it.
If you were to start all over again, would you have done anything differently?
If I were to start all over again, the only thing I would do differently is starting sooner.
If you weren’t working on menstruation rights, what else would you be doing?
Along with menstrual rights, I am also focusing on Soka Education (a value-creating pedagogy). My university is actually founded on the principles of Soka education. I am currently exploring how key elements of Soka education can be implemented to overcome the Politics of Menstruation in India. Just last month I presented this aspect of my research at the 2nd International Conference on Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education organized by the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education, DePaul University.
I think if not for menstrual rights then I would be working on how various global and local issues can be overcome by successfully implementing Soka Education. I am also extremely passionate about creating gender equality in the world. There is actually so much to be done. Anyhow, I would definitely try and work towards achieving the UN SDG towards 2030.
What advice do you have for youths who also aspire to take actions for menstruation rights and women’s rights?
I really want to pat the youth on the back and applaud their courage. The only piece of advice I would like to give them is to always walk the talk, practice what they preach. In my short journey within the menstrual landscape, I have learned that the politics of menstruation is a social construct, and while we as activists try and spread awareness, we must respect that the journey of awareness or breaking free is different for everyone. We mustn’t be impatient but rather appreciate each other for trying to do our best. Life is full of struggles and challenges, but nothing is impossible if we all come together and empower each other by creating a strong network of solidarity.
What’s next for Sania?
I want to continue my journey as a menstrual activist and take more concrete actions to overcome the politics of menstruation in India and also across the globe. A major issue is that currently, the menstrual landscape in India is product-driven, however, to solve a socio-cultural issue we need social initiatives.
I am also aiming and working towards holding workshops to spread menstrual awareness at the school level. I am trying to be more creative and come up with innovative ideas to spread awareness and overcome the politics at play.