How do women in sports manage to rise above hygiene challenges while still giving their best on the court and in the field? Kalwyna Rathod finds out
I think it’s been almost 10 years since I first saw this particular meme floating around on the Internet – two stick-figure girls in the washroom together, one positioned above the toilet with her feet resting on the other’s thighs, and both holding onto each other’s arms for dear life so as to not touch the toilet seat. Of course, hovering over the toilet is a common practice among women, and can be done alone. Lining the seat with tissues is also an option, unless you’re against that kind of wastage.
On a recent trip to Mumbai, I found myself in a washroom with an automatic sensor-based toilet seat cover. My mind was blown just looking at this innovation, until I realised I couldn’t make head nor tail of the pictorial instructions or even locate the sensor. Perhaps it wasn’t working. Still, all this is just part of a regular day in the life of an urban woman. The worst days are when you also have to deal with your periods while being out and about.
Now imagine you’re a female athlete – you can’t waste time going to the washroom to relieve yourself or change sanitary pads mid-game. What would you do? Priyanka Goswami, who competes in the 20-kilometre race walk and represented India at the Tokyo Olympics, says, “I have to plan beforehand, find out which washroom is closest to the start line so I can relieve myself before the race starts.” The 20-km race takes about two hours, the 35-km race about three. “Athletes who compete in the 50-km race face the most problems,” reveals the 26-year-old who hails from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. “If any athlete wants to relieve themselves, they just have to do it in their shorts and then pour water over themselves during the race itself. And that also helps when we bleed through our shorts. We can’t afford to use the portable washrooms set up at the side of the road as that would affect our time. Male athletes in India do relieve themselves at the side of the road, but, in other countries, the police would be onto you if you try that.”
Mannata Mishra, a national level swimmer from Bhubaneswar, might be just 15 years old, but isn’t one to shy away from sharing her opinion on what would help make life better for female athletes in India. She says, “There have been times when I have faced difficulty finding sanitary products, especially if I am staying with the team in hostels. Most of my tournaments are held in places with very few shops around, so I am forced to always carry my own sanitation products ranging from towels to sanitary pads. Sanitary products should be made available in washrooms, and in hostels and other accommodation, and there should be facilities to provide the same in case of emergency.”
Shuttler N Sikki Reddy agrees. The 28-year-old also takes the precaution of always carrying sanitary pads during her travels. “Luckily, I’ve had access to sanitary pads in tournaments and while travelling abroad, but, in India, things could be made a lot better with a little more awareness. As far as the sport is concerned, we players sweat a lot and even the pad can come off mid-game. We can’t go and change, so it’s a good thing we have tampons and menstrual cups to turn to as per our needs.” And what about dealing with the other problems that menstruation brings? She replies, “Sometimes, it does bother you a lot – the mood swings, irritation, headaches... The body doesn’t support you and it’s not like a usual day with all the bloating and body pains. My sport has a lot of physical movement, so, to overcome all this, I just do some easy stretches and sleep well. To divert my mind, I watch comedy movies.”
N Sikki Reddy
Ahmedabad-based 22-year-old Parina Patel, currently pursuing research in the field of cancer biology, used to play national level golf up until her final year of high school and now plays the sport only for pleasure. She says, “Golf is perceived to be an elite sport; usually we play at clubs that are privately maintained, so the issues female golfers face aren’t as grave as those faced by female athletes in other sports. The washrooms are usually well maintained, but there aren’t sanitary napkin-dispensing machines, so I still carry my own.” Speaking of the challenges faced while playing the sport, Parina adds, “A game lasts about four to six hours. We’re out there in the scorching heat, drinking three to four litres of water in that span of time. The way good courses are laid out, sometimes, you have to wait two to three hours to use the washrooms because they are usually centrally located. Some courses do have washrooms in-between, but these are the most neglected part of the course and you don’t feel like using them. They might not even have running water, so I’m always armed with a sanitiser and sanitising spray.” Do the men have it easier? Parina says, “Yes, because they relieve themselves wherever possible on the course. In professional tournaments, you’re being watched, and most clubs have solid rules in place against such behaviour, but, at club level golf, they don’t really care. Men also aren’t bothered by the state of a washroom; it’s us women who have to think of germs and infections.”
Phew! These are things I had not considered while grousing about not finding that toilet seat sensor. Still, through my research, I found something all us non-sportswomen need to know: hovering isn’t really a healthy practice. Because your pelvic floor and pelvic girdle muscles are extremely tense, it requires you to push urine out. Over time, this can contribute to pelvic organ prolapse. Additionally, hovering keeps the bladder from emptying itself fully, which can lead to bladder infections, or increased frequency and urgency of urination. So, use sanitisers and sanitising sprays,
do a thorough wipedown, and take a seat.
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