Interview: ‘I salute initiatives around menstruation,’ says Mithila Palkar

As a brand ambassador for Carmesi's #TeachThemYoung campaign, an initiative marking Menstrual Hygiene Day, OTT queen Mithila Palkar opens up about taboo topics, women's wellness, and lots more...
Mithila Palkar
Mithila Palkar

She was ‘the girl’ in the TV series Girl and the City, before she moved on to Netflix’s Little Things. Her spunk reminds one of Preity Zinta, but of course, Mithila Palkar has carved her own niche. At a time when every other actor wanted to graduate to films, Mithila took it slow, choosing projects on TV and OTT that would soon make her a household name. She played Imran Khan’s sister in Katti Batti and in 2018, she played her first lead role in the Hindi film Karwaan, alongside Irrfan Khan and Dulquer Salmaan. In 2019, she acted in Netflix’s Chopsticks, alongside Abhay Deol. Mithila believes opportunities for actors have increased due to the growth of OTT and digital platforms.While she enjoys being before the camera, Mithila is also someone who wants to use her influence as a public figure to effect change and significantly contribute to society. She is Carmesi’s brand ambassador for their #TeachThemYoung, an initiative marking Menstrual Hygiene Day, to combine education and awareness to enable a real difference in menstrual hygiene management.

Excerpts from our conversation:

In India, where sex and menstruation is taboo, we are opening up only now about dialogues around these subjects. How far do you think we have come?

The taboo around conversations about sex and menstruation is progressively being broken in India. Although these subjects have traditionally been taboo, the nation sees a modest but consistent shift towards more open conversation. We salute the growing domestic initiatives aimed at empowering, educating, and involving national leaders, communities, families, and adolescent boys and girls about menstruation and highlighting the right of women and girls to manage their periods healthily. There have been enormous improvements in maternal health and women's rights. This exemplary transformation is being brought about in large part by the media. However, television is not the only force behind this shift. Today, many groups on various social media sites, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, are committed to raising awareness. Positive change will inevitably occur with the combination and cooperation of an educated India, media outlets, and a receptive society.

Do you believe a lot of women still don’t know what sanitary pads to use or which is the best option, or if they should move on to cloth pads or menstrual cups?

The idea of menstruation cleanliness has remained difficult in India due to young girls and women's restricted access to sanitary education and essential sanitary care items. Through social and behavioural change initiatives, it must be addressed. Few people know the negative effects of unkempt menstruation management practices on one's health. Because of a strong social stigma attached to menstruation, less than 20 per cent of women in the country use sanitary napkins. Relevance is the key issue, even when talking about affordability. For mothers and daughters, sanitary pads are more of a nice-to-have than a need. Because of this, household expenditure on necessary menstrual hygiene is a tiny portion of what is spent on other things, like cosmetics. According to studies, most girls do not always have access to high-quality menstrual hygiene products. As a result, many Indian women and girls make do with homemade substitutes like rags, hay, sand, or ash. Girls and women also don't have enough access to facilities for proper sanitation.

You are a part of  #TeachThemYoung — an initiative that combines education and awareness to enable a real difference in menstrual hygiene management. How important is it to teach them young about menstrual hygiene? Also, please tell us more about your association with this campaign.

#TeachThemYoung is a great initiative that’s started by Carmesi. A lot of Indian households are still hesitant about teaching their children about periods at the right age. When I say children, I mean both boys and girls. Because to achieve gender equality, it is crucial to encourage healthy conversation about periods, promote good menstrual hygiene practices, and have access to the right products. #TeachThemYoung encourages parents to be more open and honest when it comes to menstruation and provides all necessary information to assist them. The initiative intends to push a social and behavioural change in how menstruation is managed and perceived.

While in the urban setup, we have access to choices; the women in the rural areas still lack basic but essential access to hygiene. Would you want to help bring about a change there?

There is still work to be done in the uphill battle of empowering rural women in hygiene. The significance of cleanliness requires debate and knowledge exchange. Women must be made aware of the connection between good personal cleanliness and good mental health. They will be able to support themselves and their families more effectively. Comprehensive sex education programmes in schools and community-based initiatives aimed at de-stigmatising menstruation and disseminating accurate information about menstrual health can help achieve this.

Men and boys must be included in these initiatives as well since they are essential to advancing gender equality and developing environments that are supportive of women and girls. In addition, it's crucial to ensure that menstrual hygiene products are accessible to and affordable for all women and girls. This includes lowering tariffs on menstrual hygiene products and providing free or discounted goods in stores and educational institutions. It also entails instructing women and girls on the various kinds of menstruation products available and how to use and properly dispose of them. A nation grows stronger as women become more self-assured, secure, and healthy.

Mithila Palkar
Mithila Palkar

Menopause is also a subject not many talk about and hence there is very little awareness about hot flashes, hormonal changes that a woman goes through resulting in her fighting a lonely battle. How do you think this can be changed? How can we have more dialogues around this?

Even though this biological transition which signifies the end of a woman's menstrual cycle and fertility affects roughly half of the world's population or will do so in the future, menopause is rarely a subject of open debate. We must stress the importance of using a comprehensive and personalised strategy for menopausal women so that they may make educated decisions regarding their care and treatment. For menopause to become commonplace and for women to receive the support they require, education and awareness-building are essential. Mandatory menopause training for healthcare professionals should be implemented to ensure best practices are followed. Regarding menopause, workplaces must foster an open, welcoming, and supportive atmosphere. Flexible work schedules, climate control, cool water, and managers trained to handle delicate talks at work with dignity and respect can all make a significant difference.

Everybody talks about skincare and haircare routines, but no one discusses hygiene or sexual health. Please tell us if there is a routine you follow.

Regardless of gender, cleanliness has a significant impact on one's health and should thus always be given first priority. We can maintain our fundamental personal hygiene by cleaning our teeth, washing our hair, wearing clean clothes, and eating nutritious foods. A healthy individual also has a sound mind, which can increase productivity throughout the day. Since women have major roles in the home and society, we must maintain good personal hygiene because it is up to us to make our families secure and happy. It is recommended to use gentle, pH-balanced soaps and avoid harsh chemicals.

Additionally, it is essential to practice safe menstrual hygiene management by using sanitary products that are clean and fresh, changing them frequently, and following suitable disposal procedures. Regular health examinations, including visits to gynecologists and other medical specialists, can aid in identifying and preventing any problems. A woman's daily health regimen should include eating a balanced meal, exercising frequently, getting adequate sleep, and controlling her stress.

Moving on to skin and hair, you have amazing curls; please tell us how you take care of them. Growing up, were you conscious about your curls, or did you find it difficult to manage them?

Not only are curls a hairstyle but also a way of life. Lack of knowledge on proper curly hair care is a big source of problem. My childhood Sundays were devoted to washing, conditioning, oiling, and combing my hair. To minimise frizz and breakage, I advise gentle handling and avoiding excessive brushing or combing. The curls must be nourished and moisturised using sulphate-free shampoos and conditioners for curly hair. Curl definition and manageability can be improved with regular deep conditioning treatments, such as natural oils like coconut or argan oil. The natural texture is preserved by eschewing heat-styling products and embracing air-drying or diffusing techniques. Wearing helmets or applying UV protection sprays to protect curls from intense sun exposure is also important. Last but not least, including a nutritious diet rich in vitamins and minerals improves hair health from the inside out.

How do you take care of your mental health, considering you belong to an industry that is not only demanding but also requires you to be in the public eye?     

Strong mental health enables us to live the lives we choose completely. When our mental health is in good shape, we can better recover from setbacks, connect with our loved ones, succeed at work, and appreciate moments of purpose and delight. It's crucial to add readily available resources to your mental health treatment regimen. My mental wellness programme integrates writing, mindfulness, coaching, physical exercise, and reading. I regularly engage in various practices that support my efforts to take good care of my body, mind, and surroundings. I might go to a yoga class or work out, for instance. I'll either write in my journal or meditate. I also organise areas that cause stress or tension, like a messy desk. Mindfulness, physical activity, and time spent in nature are the foundational elements of any mental wellness regimen.

You have carved a niche for yourself in the OTT platform. Did you ever feel that if not for OTT, it would be a struggle to survive in the entertainment industry?

Opportunities for actors have increased due to the growth of OTT and digital platforms. They have also provided the opportunity for experimentation. The casting process is becoming more thrilling, thanks to OTT platforms. Previously seen in extremely minor roles in movies, actors are now seen in prominent roles in web series and dramas on OTT platforms. The surge in popularity of OTT media has increased the opportunity for actors to showcase their skills. Many actors now have newfound fame thanks to OTT. The last few years have produced some of the top artisans in the digital market. In contrast to films produced for economic purposes, the web can portray contemporary and sophisticated stories.

OTT in fact has facilitated a lot of talent. Why do you think OTT sells?

The Covid-19 pandemic gave the budding internet media and entertainment sector a significant boost and changed the course of the sector's growth. The broad adoption of OTT platforms was driven by audiences' adoption of a more technologically sophisticated form of entertainment that went beyond traditional media, which caused a spike in viewership and watch time. The audience's desire for diverse content across markets expanded due to easy access to high-quality content and the comfort of consumption. Furthermore, we observe a trend of living room experiences in virtually every home today, complementing the rising usage of connected devices. Due to the explosion of linked gadgets, OTT has become a popular choice for consumption by individuals and families. It's fascinating for me to be a craftsperson of this era because OTT has given us a tonne of content.

You have also acted in films, and with some amazing actors, what are the kind of films or actors you are looking forward to or wish to work with?

India is a nation that has an obsession with its movie stars. The entire country attentively watches every move a Bollywood celebrity makes. A duty to society comes along with such authority and position. Aside from their dazzling presence, actors, especially in recent years, have demonstrated a desire to give back to the society that supports them. They have graciously partnered with several causes, including those promoting women's and girls' empowerment, raising awareness of child sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, sexual harassment in the workplace and other settings, body shaming, colourism, health and sanitation issues faced by the underprivileged, and environmental and air pollution issues. I hope to work with socially conscious actors in India that zealously champion social concerns, using their influence to effect change and significantly contribute to society.

What are some of the social issues/causes close to your heart and is there anything you do to address them?          

In Indian society, gender inequality is a serious problem. Despite a constitution that provides equal rights for men and women and decades of law, some deeply ingrained gender inequality in India has a terrible toll on women's lives. Gender gaps persist despite significant economic growth. One of the primary causes of gender disparity is women's misunderstanding of their rights and the barriers to achieving equality. The existing cultural and societal standards are frequently to blame for this lack of understanding. For women to demand equality, it is critical to remove these obstacles and raise their awareness of their rights. We must all work together to support women in overcoming this discrimination crisis. Women in India need to be made aware of their legal rights. The idea of women's empowerment needs to be ingrained in everyone's consciousness.


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