Bursting the skeptics and cynics of Menstruation
Discussion of menstruation is one of the most tenacious biological taboos in our society. The stigma around it has obfuscated information being shared between generations, specifically around the basic dos and don’ts when a girl begins her period.
One might communicate, so what? What is the need for them to know if their mothers and grandmothers never did? It is, indeed, pivotal for girls to learn about the menstrual cycle. Incognisance around her first period can put a young girl, sometimes as young as 10, through mental distress and fear over what is happening to her, combined with a sense of shame because of the archaic stigma circumscribing a menstruating woman. A girl, time and again has to conceal the fact from family, friends, teachers and others.
I have often been interrogated about the need for a woman to talk to more people or speak about the subject openly. I would respond with a simple question; What is the need to make a girl feel inadequate because of her gender or biology? Why should we subject a young mind to the mental turbulence of dealing with physical change and a monthly occurrence which she can not talk about, to the extent that she has to hide things such as the cloth she is using? Such straitjacketed views and practices not only expose young girls to infections but also create a feeling of inadequacy. A young girl entering a crucial stage of her life is often made to feel that she is inferior in the family with a myriad of instances where girls are forbidden from participating in family functions, celebrations, prayers, and, at times, attend school.
During my volunteering days at Helping Hands Charitable Trust, I was dumbfounded to learn that approximately 80% of girls in rural and semi-urban areas miss school for 3-4 days once they start menstruating. This is not only driven by a scarcity of toilets and sanitation facilities in schools, but also the outdated social practice of ‘protecting’ an adolescent girl by confinement until she gets married. Concomitantly, a cloth is prone to leakage and staining and does not keep a girl comfortable or safe from infection during those days.
The reason for women not possessing sanitary napkins is impelled by a slew of factors, affordability being one. However, a lot of cultural factors work against women accessing sanitary pads, which stops a family from spending 30 rupees at an average for a woman - it is not seen as a priority. Foremost is the issue of denial.Women have been programmed not to discuss the topic openly, with most preferring to suffer in isolation and skip work. Then comes the distinct lack of awareness of better hygiene options, including sanitary napkins. Older women bear plenty of superstitions and may advise against it, calling it an avoidable expense. There is also the issue of disposal.
We need to educate and sensitise girls and women about the need for clean, dry menstrual hygiene products and pitfalls of wrong methods. A high incidence of cervical cancer is reportedly linked to infections from soiled and damp cloth. A small amount of 25-30 rupees for sanitary napkins will not only prevent infections but also allow a girl to live her life and ensure a woman does not lose two-three days of her livelihood each month.
Let's talk about periods and break the culture of silence around menstruation.