A Small Step In Breaking Down The Walls Of Indifference

Mira is the solo female engineer on the site. With a lack of washrooms and basic empathy, how will she navigate the male-dominated space during her period?

Mira’s boots scuffed against the gravel as she surveyed the expansive construction site. As a civil engineer at one of India’s most reputed companies, she was surrounded by cranes, scaffolding, and bricklayers.

The site hummed with the drone of machines and chatter of workers, like an anthill bustling under the summer sun. But the atmosphere was heavy, as if soaked in testosterone. Mira stood overlooking the construction site, her hard hat feeling heavier with each passing minute.

Being a civil engineer, she had overseen skyscrapers and bridges rise from mere sketches. But today, a different kind of pressure was building within her—a mounting ache in her lower abdomen.

Focus on work, not on personal health

“Mira, I need you to check these calculations,” Raj, her manager on-site hollered from a distance, clipboard in hand. “We’ve also got some structural discrepancies on the west wing, come take a look.”

“Sure,” Mira winced as another cramp shot through her, as sharp and unexpected as a slap across her face. She trudged towards Raj, her boots grinding against gravel, each step a triumph over physical discomfort.

“Are you okay, Mira?” Mira’s friend Priya stole a moment to talk while the men were engrossed in a debate about cement mixtures.

“You know how it is,” Mira replied, her words like fragments of glass, sharp but delicate.

“Can’t you take a sick leave, Mira?”

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“And hear whispers about how women can’t handle fieldwork? No, thank you.”

‘I just need a minute.’

Mira felt a sudden, dreaded warmth between her legs and felt the shooting onset of a familiar ache in her lower abdomen, as if someone was twisting her insides into knots. She winced. It was that time of the month again.

Mira shuffled her feet uncomfortably, a visible tremor running down her spine. Throughout the day, Mira tried to focus on her responsibilities—blueprints, load calculations, progress meetings. But it felt like her abdomen was a war zone and each cramp a small explosion going off.

Raj noticed. “Everything alright?”

“Yes, sir, I just need a minute,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Aunt flow is here

By midday, Mira couldn’t ignore it any longer. The crimson tide had arrived in full swing, and she needed to change her sanitary pad. And therein lay the crisis: there were no private bathrooms for women on the site. The few makeshift toilets were unspeakably dirty, without a proper door, let alone a lock. It was like asking for privacy in the middle of a bustling marketplace. She made her way to the solitary, rundown toilet for women—more like a closet with a hole in the ground. The door wouldn’t even fully close, like a book that won’t shut because its pages are too many and too wrinkled. She sighed and decided to head to her car instead.

“Mira, we need you here!” Raj yelled as she contemplated her next steps.

“Coming, sir!” she responded, feeling increasingly desperate.

What do the other women do?

Mira quickly retreated to her car—a white sedan parked on the periphery of the site. The car felt like a sanctuary, her own mobile fortress of solitude, but one only she had access to. A bubble of privilege enveloped her. But as she changed her pad, she couldn’t shake off the image of female masonry workers she had just seen, their sarees drenched in sweat, working under the scorching sun.

What do they do during their periods, she thought, her heart sinking like a stone in water.

Just then, she caught sight of Lakshmi, a female masonry worker, hastily walking away from the construction site. Her saree was stained, and she looked visibly distressed. She was followed by taunts from some male workers.

Women on a break are shirking work?

Arey! Lakshmi, taking another break, huh? Must be nice to be a woman!”

Mira felt her heart sink. She caught up to Lakshmi, “Are you okay?”

Lakshmi shook her head. “I got my period, madam. And these men, they don’t understand. They think it’s an excuse for us to be lazy.”

Mira looked into her eyes, and it was like staring into a mirror that reflected a harsher reality.

Returning to the site, she dialed a number. “Shobha, it’s Mira. We need to do something. It’s time.”

Breaking down the walls

Three days later, a truck pulled into the site. Shobha and Mira unloaded boxes of sanitary pads and portable, lockable, clean toilet stalls.

“Mira, what is all this?” Raj looked bewildered.

“It’s called basic human dignity, sir. Women also need a toilet. They bleed every month. It’s not a luxury; it’s biology.”

Raj hesitated. “But will it affect the project’s budget, Mira?”

Mira fired back, “The cost of ignoring this is far higher, sir. Trust me.”

“But Mira, this is unheard of,” Raj said, his eyebrows arching like the curves of a bridge.

“Unheard of, but necessary. Think about the women here, sir. It’s high time we normalize their basic needs, instead of making them a taboo. Periods at work, especially when women work outdoors, are not easy to bear.”

Putting in a new scaffolding

Months later, the ripple effects of Mira’s initiative were palpable. A small sanitary unit was erected, its white walls standing defiantly against a sea of indifference. It was a tiny fortress, but to Mira, Shobha, and Lakshmi, it felt like reclaiming a kingdom. Women now had clean and private spaces. But for Mira, the victory was bittersweet. Each cramp she felt served as a reminder of the miles left to go.

She saw Lakshmi one day, coming out of the new toilet with a sense of relief that words couldn’t capture.

“Thank you, madam,” Lakshmi said, her eyes wet.

“No, thank you, Lakshmi. We build structures, but today, we built a little bit of respect for ourselves, didn’t we?”

A small step towards making a giant difference

Lakshmi nodded, and Mira felt her own eyes tear up.

Mira had moved a needle, however slightly, towards recognizing the simple human needs that had long been dismissed.

Yet, as she returned to her site, her eyes fell upon the laborers—women who worked barefoot, with babies strapped to their backs, still denied even this small dignity. And her heart sank, understanding that her victory was a mere raindrop in a desert, absorbed before it could quench any thirst.

She sighed, rolling up another set of blueprints for the day. Foundations had been laid, walls had been raised, but the ceiling—oh, the glass ceiling—remained unbroken, looming above them all.

That was it—a step, perhaps a small one, but in the right direction. And as another construction project beckoned, Mira knew the real foundations laid were those of empathy and dignity. Structures of bricks and mortar may crumble, but the fortresses of compassion, once built, stand tall against the test of time.

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About the Author

Sharda Mishra

I am a photographer and an avid reader. I am not a writer but I like to give words to my emotions. I love to cook and hike. I believe in humor and its impact read more...

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