24 March, 2023


From White Vans To Menses

By Jagath Asoka

Dr. Jagath Asoka

Albert Einstein was known for his thought experiments, which he used as a tool for understanding physical issues and for teaching his ideas to others. If you are a man, here is a simple thought experiment for you: Imagine, once every lunar month, blood oozing continuously out of your phallus for a week. Would you use a rag to cover and plug your phallus? If you had a choice, would you say, “I would rather have my hair on fire for a week”? Men cannot handle menses. 

From menarche to menopause, it is a universal fact that menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is an essential aspect of hygiene for women and adolescent girls. I usually do not watch Hindi movies, but I watched the movie Pad Man, which was based on the short story “The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land” in Twinkle Khanna’s book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, which was inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist from Tamil Nadu who introduced low-cost sanitary pads.

In a country like Sri Lanka, where 45% of the population earn less than two dollars a day, where 54% of the population are female, even though most women and girls have the innate knowledge about reproductive tract infections caused due to personal hygiene during menstruation, they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. Think of your own mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and aunts who face insurmountable difficulties and challenges at home, schools, and work for seven days every lunar month; in many developing countries, menstruation, associated diseases, and menstrual hygiene management activities are surrounded by shame, silence, and social taboos. In countries like India and Nepal, preparing food, interacting with people, refraining from performing religious rituals, and even drinking milk or taking a shower are some of the restrictions that women face—even today—during menses. 

I do not have a dog in this political fight; but when a politician suggested a solution to a common problem faced by Sri Lankan girls and women, the hyenas were laughing, and their ignorance and stupidity are daily displayed on Facebook without shame. I took some action: I deleted these trolls from my Facebook page. Believe it not, some of them are highly educated Sri Lankan women who live and work here in the USA. 

A survey of low-income women in a large U.S. city finds that nearly two-thirds could not afford menstrual hygiene products such as tampons or pads. In a recent Saint Louis University study (Missouri, USA) two out of three women were found to have gone without menstrual products at least once during a year, while 21% went without the products on a monthly basis. If we were to conduct a similar study in Sri Lanka—will never happen during your lifetime—what would be the results? Well, imagine, in a country like Sri Lanka, where 45% earn less than two dollars a day, Sri Lankan mothers, daughters, and wives spending three dollars to buy pads and tampons? Here is the reality: Egyptian women used soft papyrus tampons in the 15th century BCE, almost 1500 years before Jesus’ birth. Even in 2019, in developing countries, such as in Sri Lanka, women still use rags! Yeah, we brag about our opulence, sumptuousness, rich abundance, luxurious hotels, super highways, and abundance of iPhones, yet most Sri Lankan girls and women use rags during menses!

Names say a lot about products and attitudes. Women’s health issues and men’s health issues are viewed differently. Viagra, for example, suggests vitality and rhymes with Niagara; do you know why? Before Pfizer came up with the name Viagra, they did a survey. To name Pfizer’s blockbuster, they ran a focus group with urologists who treated erectile dysfunction. At the conclusion of the session, one of the doctors was asked to describe the feeling when the condition went away. The doctor said, “Visualize a strong stream.” Melding the words “vigorous” and “Niagara,” they came up with “Viagra.” it connotes force and endurance; on the other hand, the word tampon is  somewhat derogatory, an inelegant term, originated from the medieval French word “tampion,” meaning a piece of cloth to stop a hole, a stamp, plug, or a stopper for the plug. In western countries, an average woman may use approximately 11,400 tampons in her lifetime: if she uses only tampons rather than other products. I guess those who came up with the name tampon did not visualize a blood stream, instead they thought of a piece of cloth to stop a hole. I bet it was a man who came up with the word tampon.  

Did you ever imagine menses would be an issue in Presidential Elections, in a country like Sri Lanka, where we proudly say, “Gedhara Budhun Amma“ (Mother is the Buddha at home). The emphasis is on the sanctity of mothers—women—in our country. Yet women and adolescent girls use rags during menses, while on every full moon day we spend millions to build stupas with flowers that wither. Would the Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka say let us use that money to provide free sanitary pads? I wonder what the Buddha would say about these stupid displays of sanctimonious piety of strewing millions of flowers from helicopters. 

I used to write about politics before Sirisena was elected, because people were scared to talk about politics, were scared to ask politicians whether they had used white vans to kidnap dissenters and journalists; some of them were tortured, maimed, and killed. I am not a fan of Sirisena, but since he became President, I have not heard that he used white vans to kidnap, killed journalists, and tortured his dissenters. Daily and openly, Sri Lankans ridicule Sirisena, and he has endured humiliation. To me, that is a revolutionary change that was achieved through the ballot, not the bullet; I have realized that Sri Lankas inadvertently promote bribery, corruption, thuggery, and extortion: The four elements of our social DNA. According to Richard Dawkins, memes—an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person—are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes. Bribery, corruption, thuggery, and extortion are not only our memes but also in our genes.

In a week, we will find out the winner. It does not matter whether you are the comrade, commander, messiah, or the savior. I am curious to see how women as a group and minorities—Tamils and Muslims—in Sri Lanka as a group are going to vote. 

Sri Lankan society is hierarchical, not collaborative. Instead of encouraging dissent, which is the linchpin, a sine qua non, of a healthy democracy, we demand deference to authority. That is why some Sri Lankans yearn for a benevolent dictator, an oxymoron. 

At least, the hullabaloo is about menses, not maiming and killing dissenters and critics. Now, that is something new in politics, even in global politics.  

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Latest comments

  • 12

    Despite any semblance of logic required to elect public officials, the people will vote on emotions and false hopes as usual.

    • 6

      after a long time :) Hope you are keeping well.
      We the folks are about be caught by a dragen in SL. I think if they would not the degree of the danger before us, we would be caught by Rajapakshe rascals again.
      People are made eternal slaves. They dont care about anything, but to drag the votes of the poor of the poor. That way only they could gain power and escape from the on going investigations against him.
      I am not living in the country. But we would never want Rajakshes be back and loot the nation from where they stopped..
      We have plenty of evidence to prove that GOTABAYA is not even suitable to be a Pradeshiya saba member.
      Besides, the stories that his mediation killed beggars on the streets are not just fairy tales. Some of them had been stoned on their heads, see how brutal they have been.

      • 1

        Hello Simon,
        One could claim that Yahapalaya protected the country’s wealth and bond scam was of no significance!!
        There are also people who think pigs can fly!!

  • 8

    It is gathered, the writer is a resident of USA and according to him, some Offenders (re: this issue of ‘pads’ for women) are highly educated women living in USA. Sad to say, there a quite a few Sri Lankan SB’s who live in western Christian Democracies who harbour slavish mentalities and support the Racist, Extremist, Nationalist, Divisive Politics of that criminal family clan in Sri Lanka (MR&Co) while enjoying all the freedoms and privileges afforded to them in these Christian Democracies where they have chosen to settle down. Wonder why such individuals do not opt to go to Oppressive Regimes around the world (e.g. Russia, China, North Korea) akin to the type of Society their “saviours” advocates in Sri Lanka? They are typical “hypocrites” who should be spurned and rebuffed.

    MR / NGR and their ‘slaves’ are a cancer and a disease in our society. Until the ideologies and philosophies they follow are snuffed out from our Society, this country will not progress.

    Voters, please use your franchise, wisely, judiciously, aptly and appropriately.

    • 3

      To: Gamini,
      ref your article, what do you mean when you state ” Western Christian Democracies”.
      Why do you need to use religion with regard describing a democracy.
      At least the so called Western Christian Democracies are progressing in leaps and bounds but your so called Buddhist Democracy is going backwards in leaps and bounds.
      From the time your country got independence it was a governed Buddhist Democracy and will be a governed Buddhist Democracy until by a forthcoming misfortune it ceases to be a Buddhist Democracy and becomes a Buddhist Dictatorship.
      You have all the right to call the Western Democracies anything you wish as you see it fit but refrain please refrain from calling them Christian Democracies.
      Very soon you will be in the hands of a Buddhist Dictator who will mold you like a piece of shit according to his wishes and he will shape you and many others like you the way he see it fit and i suggest you start preparing yourself to be shaped.
      From my personal point of view i think you Sri lankans have enjoyed too much of a so called free Democracy where your Buddhist politicians have robbed, plundered, cheated, created havoc, raped, murdered, pillaged, destroyed willingly all forms of good governance and reduced your beautiful country to a virtual banana republic and all because of voters like you who want to do same.
      Only a downright Christian Miracle can save your land from a Buddhist Dictator in the next few days and the chances are very slim but if that miracle does happen then all “Glory be to God” and i suggest you had better change your religion.
      Its a pity that Wankers like you exist in such a beautiful land and the sooner people like you are got rid off the better for the good of others.

      • 2

        Henschel – Hansel (& Gretel), don’t be so cruel. Everyone respects Gamini in this column. Cheers!

      • 2


        ‘Its a pity that Wankers like you exist’ – a truly Christian comment, God bless you.

        Have you heard of the Phillipines? A Christian country and former dictatorship. What about all the Christian African countries? What about all the S. American Christian countries? Plenty of merciless and cruel Christian dictatorships for you to choose from. I frequently disagree with Gamini but in this instance he is absolutely right. Please don’t display your ignorance.

  • 4

    Thank you Dr Jagath Asoka for discussing a subject which many of us would not dare to touch on in public. But as you and a few other sincere and socially informed individuals have stated it is a painful, sensitive yet very important heath issue for women in our society. Mr Premadasa should be highly commended for educating himself on the subject and for addressing it as a health issue worthy of consideration for seeking a solutionto. This, I believe is just one of the many social issues that he will address on behalf of the voiceless and marginalised sectors of our society. .

    You write that ” … when a politician suggested a solution to a common problem faced by Sri Lankan girls and women, the hyenas were laughing, and their ignorance and stupidity are daily displayed on Facebook without shame”. Sadly, here in Sri Lanka the ridicule and laughter continue. We cannot label these individuals as being educated. Where is our education if we cannot empathise with our own on a common problem?

  • 2

    Whether it be white vans or sanitary pads , the final answer is that both main candidates will ruin the country further if either of them come into power.
    SP is not a seasoned mature politician and he can’t stand up against those who defy him.
    GR has never been a politician but he can stand up against those who defy him.
    Both men lack knowledge and experience of good governance therefore taking SL from the frying pan to the fire.
    Sri lankans like their other Asian counterparts are not patriotic, hardworking people because if they were then SL would be in the same league as India, Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand.
    Promise Sri lankans and their politicians a visit to Hell free of charge and they will side with the Devil.
    It will take a genuine miracle to pull the beautiful country out of its black hole but then genuine miracles don’t come easy and easily.
    One can only genuinely pray.

  • 5

    I do commend one of the Prez candidates for bringing out this issue of the pad. It is a serious problem and I decry the candidate being dubbed as the padman. All this while we have been talking of women’s rights, equality, non-discrimination and so forth but the big issues of women in Sri Lanka in particular and the women in the world are centering around maternity and sanitary health. While giving free tampons to women may be a solution in the very short term, the reality is that its manufacture should be a cottage industry in Sri Lanka for the free issue of the same to be sustainable.

  • 2

    Gotler or Padmani, what a choice

  • 1

    These dudes must have nothing else to do, to come out of the woods like this, and tell us about our Mothers and sisters menstrual cycles, as if this is something Dr Ranil’s Yahapalanaya has brought to our 54% inhabitants..

    Arundathie gave us so much insider information of our Women’s Secret Business , I felt sick, reading them.-

    This Dude now has taken it to the next level to describe how the Old Tampons work with gory details using Einsteins Relativity Science..

    Will someone next tell us about Menstrual Sex, which I believe is common in some parts of the world where both Sexes enjoy it the best, because they don’t have to worry about Babies coming along to haunt them..

  • 3

    Dear Dr. Jagath Asoka,
    It’s good
    to have these sensible articles that have appeared, where the added difficulty of being a woman is discussed rationally.
    As on most subjects, AKD speaks more sense than the average candidate and voter. Sajith has scored with this manoeuvre, but I don’t like this politics of promises. We’ve got to ensure that families are economically stable enough to purchase all their requirements. Please see what I have said there. It may be that tomorrow I will add something more ominous, but let’s focus on what’s relevant.
    We surely don’t want these politicians showering us with gifts bought with public money. I avoided the automatic phrase “tax-payers’ money” since I’ve been poor enough all my life to have (almost) never paid Direct Income Tax.
    Women are right to be glad that taboos have been broken – and I liked your frank and graphic opening paragraph.
    The other important thing to master (? – a touch of MCP?) is the casting of Preference Votes. Politicians must not be allowed to rule us!

  • 1

    Better the devil you know

  • 3

    Offering pads is only a way of looting votes of women. We should analyse the election promises within the behavior of our politicians. Health issues should be addressed through education and not through spreading dependency mentality. Other thing is writer mentioned distribution of flowers over dagabas but not wasteful activities of other sections of society, eg having a meal for thousands of dollar by so called high class people

  • 0

    Doc, I am so HAPPY to see you back. These are the moments I feel good about being a Doc”. There in no better person, to educate our masses about personal hygiene and not to get confused with equality. If personal health is our rights, that included personal hygiene too. Please help bringing some sanity, to our retarded nation.

  • 0

    As a Vanni resident 50 years ago and lived in Ratnapura 60 years ago I am greatful to sajeeth to give free sanitary pad to women. I know what the women used it is embarrassing and dehumanizing women. They used dry banana barks and recyclesd the clothes. Ii is betrayal if any women don’t vote for Sajith. In Vanni you cannot buy at the stores the dispisable pads.

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