We all know that menstruation is a phenomenon unique to girls and women. There have been many taboos and superstitions around the topic of periods in India for many years. They include - Distancing from the rest of the family, not entering the kitchen during their period, being told to be hush about it, not tell men or boys and not express discomfort openly.
These restrictions were actually imposed on women because, many years ago there were no menstrual hygiene products like pads or tampons to collect the blood. Moving around would be uncomfortable for a woman who is bleeding.
Biggest Period Myth: Periods are Dirty
In ancient days, women’s lives were filled with physical work. Bathing used to happen in public places - ponds, near wells, lakes etc.
Only after bathing did people go to temples and did their work. Now with limited access to sanitary napkins and period care products, bathing was prohibited, and thereby all the physical activities that came after it. Hence, Period time became a time of rest and self care because it is physically and emotionally draining for women.
People misunderstood the reason for such practices and started believing that a menstruating woman is ‘impure’ or ‘filthy’ because of the blood that comes out of her body. A negative association was made between blood and a woman’s cleanliness.
Treating it as a dirty secret has made women feel guilty, and inferior to be embarrassed.
It is sad to be embarrassed to talk about a natural and beautiful thing in the body. Such taboos were imposed by people many generations ago. This has made it challenging to address the topic of menstrual health and hygiene among young girls across India.
A virtual cycle of Period communication breakdown “Hide the periods”
The average Indian girl attains puberty and gets her first period between 8 to 12 years of age (5th to 7th standard). They get it before they learn about the endocrine/ hormone and reproductive systems.
At home - Indian parents do not talk openly about sex or periods to their children. They think of it as a delicate topic or don’t know how to explain it. Mothers tell their daughter to hide their pads and not tell boys about it. This makes a girl associate period with something negative that should not be said aloud.
At school - Students in private schools in the country learn about this in their high school biology classes (8th to 10th standard). When a teacher speaks about menstruation or the reproductive system, all girls and boys sit through the class with looks of disgust or embarrassment on their faces.
Any girl who’s uniform gets stained is made fun of or mocked. Girls always hide their sanitary pads in an envelope or wrapping paper for boys to not see. Most Indian schools, especially the government run schools across the country do not really teach sex-education or explain what menstruation is.
These girls and boys grow up believing that it is inappropriate to talk about it. They grow up to become men and women having little or no knowledge about menstruation, puberty and reproductive health.
At work - Period pain and discomfort can come in the way of productivity and work. Men feel uncomfortable to hear about it. It is a struggle for women to express discomfort when they have a male boss or work in a male dominated workplace.
HOW TO GET RID OF THE EMBARRASSMENT AROUND IT?
Start with your immediate circle or community.
If you are a parent, teach your girl to embrace it. If you have a son, teach him to appreciate it.
If you are an employee or manager, encourage women employees to be open about it.
You can teach at least one person/ young boys and girls near you not to act surprised or feel ashamed when they hear the words ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’ said aloud.
Use social media and conduct campaigns to educate. We at &Me are passionate about women’s menstrual health and hygiene. We aim to get rid of the stigma around the topic of periods in India.