This post is written by Sanjana Choudhury, a student of Media Studies in Delhi University.
The history of how sanitary pads came into being dates long back in time when pads were silent coupons. Like every other thing essential to life and sustenance, pads too were created to cater to the needs of men. They were foremost used on the wounds of bleeding military men. This very idea was then propagated and women started using it as a second-hand extension of privilege.
This very well demonstrates that the product wasn’t invented specifically for almost half the population who were bleeding seven days a month. When women started using it at last,( although ideally they should have been the first) they were shamed for it.
On religious grounds for as long as we can look back, periods have long been seen as taboo and propagated as one from century to century. The evergreen restrictions on visiting places of worship during “that time of the month” are quite a recent sight and not very historic.
But, that is not the case everywhere. For example, in some South Indian states people celebrate the process of fertility, marking the first period of the girl as a symbol of adolescence and growth. However, ironically it is in some of these states that women re not allowed to enter any holy place when they are on periods!
Well …. because periods are considered as dirty!
Overall the domestic sphere and its upfront data reflects how many girls got to know about periods from their parents properly before and how many girls got to know about it after they actually got their menstrual cycles. The data was found to be heavily inclined towards the latter.
Menstruation as a phenomenon is reserved only for girls (Eschner 2017). However, it is always surrounded by taboos and myths, excluding women from many aspects of socio-cultural life. In India, the subject has been a matter of taboo so far. Such taboos which exist in many societies affect the emotional state, spirituality, lifestyle, and most importantly, the health of girls and women. The challenge of addressing the socio-cultural taboos and beliefs surrounding menstruation is exacerbated by the girl’s lack of knowledge and understanding of adolescence, menstruation, and reproductive health. Therefore, we need to take a strategic approach to combat these issues. This blog discusses how talking about menstruation and period health can improve the condition of the taboo.
Menstruation and the stigma around it ….
Menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle as blood passes through the vagina and out of the uterus. This process that usually begins in girls between the ages of 11 and 14 and is one of the indicators of the onset of puberty. It’s a phenomenon reserved only for girls, but it has always been a secret and stigma in many societies. The taboos surrounding menstruation exclude women and girls from many areas of social and cultural life.
Stigma around menstruation in India
Looking back in the Indian society even a mere reference to this subject was taboo. Interestingly the taboo has even made way to modern India with cultural and social influences appear to be barriers to the advancement of knowledge on this subject. Culturally, menstruation is still considered dirty and impure in many parts of India. The origin of this myth dates back to the Vedic period and is often associated with the killing of Vritra by Indra. The Vedas explain that the guilt of killing the Brahmin murder manifests itself in the flow of menstruation every month as the woman takes on part of Indra’s guilt. In addition, Hindu beliefs prohibit women from participating in normal life during menstruation. She needs to be “cleansed” before returning to her family and daily chores.
However, it is scientifically known that the root cause of menstruation is ovulation which misses the possibility of pregnancy and causes bleeding from the endometrial blood vessels. This phenomenon continues to prepare for the next cycle. Therefore, the claim of dirtiness of the menstrual cycle is nothing but a myth!
Now the question is “Can talking about periods within households improve the condition of the taboo?”
The opposition to the idea:
Will discussion about it remove the taboo?
1. The Indian society is conservative
2. The Indian Society is not very welcoming of newer ideas
3. The Indian Society holds traditions dear- one of these traditions is the way menstruating women are treated (example given: Sabarimala protests)
4. Parents of the child would not welcome the idea of this conversation
Why discussion about menstruation is important?
The child should learn about her menstrual cycle and its importance from the parents. Above all she has to be told not to be ashamed of her periods and that it is not dirty! But how far are we to hold these conversations at home?
Let’s look into these situations:
Parents are unlikely to indulge in any such conversation. Even if they do, they are unlikely to have the right tools or knowledge to hold this conversation. Parents might end up perpetuating pre-existing stereotypes onto their children. Govt resources are not very helpful (eg, treatment of sex ed chapters in NCERT + removal of queer awareness programs from the syllabus).
The child goes to either their mother, father, or a guardian they trust.
Goes to Mother-
She feels ashamed (internalized misogyny) and appalled might just hush the child up causing further stigma.
Goes to Father-
Owing to the role of “protector of women’s honor” that the man holds in Indian families, he might retort and end up restricting the child’s knowledge further.
More harms than good????
In India the education index for girls are precarious. Speaking about these issues in school can be perceived as offensive resulting in her withdrawal from school.
The way ahead ….
Thus talking about periods within households can improve the condition. However, menstruation will only remain a taboo till the time we start including it in our conversations of the everyday front until we start talking about it in our household spaces. Thus holding normal conversation in the social and domestic settings is the key to wipe out the taboo in this normal phenomenon.
Here is an important video that you can watch to understand why we need to talk about menstruation in our daily conversation? Why its normalization is the need of the hour? And finally … who need to be educated about menstruation.
Menstruation may be a biological phenomenon for girls but it is a far more social problem for boys too!!!!
Also read: Menstrual leave: A privilege or necessity
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