What is Menstruation?
Menstruation is a bodily process which happens to every girl. It is odd and confounding that something which is natural and has been happening since the beginning of time to all women should be so shrouded in secrecy, taboos, false beliefs, myths and isolate women from so many aspects of social life.
Menstrual taboo in India:
In India menstruation is still very much a hush-hush topic. Even in educated households, girls cannot openly talk about something that happens to their bodies every month. It is an absolute no-no subject especially in the presence of the males of the household.
After all, what is menstruation? It is just a natural part of the reproductive cycle in which blood from the uterus exits through the vagina. Menstruation is a sign that the woman will be able to bear children in the future. What is so bad about that?
However, menstruation is a taboo subject in Indian households. In Hindu culture, the blood flowing outwards has considered impure and dirty. Not only that the girl herself becomes a kind of untouchable during "that time." She is banished from the kitchen and puja room. Often she is not allowed to take a bath and is made to eat alone in a secluded corner of the house.
She is not allowed to touch pickles as the belief is that they will get spoilt. She must take a full head bath after her periods are over, be purified in a sense before she had allowed back into the household.
Menstruation taboos in tribal areas:
A menstruating woman and/or her menstrual blood has also believed to be more vulnerable to black magic and evil spells.
In some tribal areas, and among the Gond and Madhya ethnic groups, girls are banished to an unfurnished hut outside their village called "gaokao" for those 5 days with only snakes and wild animals for company.
Menstruation has considered a stigmatised condition almost globally. It is only in the Sikh and the Bahai religion that the menstrual cycle has considered an essential and God-given biological process and has not considered impure. Women have encouraged to pray during this time.
Menstruation taboos in urban areas:
Even in urban areas having one's period is considered a very personal affair and is kept secret. When talking with friends it has referred to in pseudonyms like "chums" or "I'm down". Sanitary pads, when bought, have given in a black bag or wrapped in newspaper to hide them as if they are some shameful secret.
The sad part of menstruation shame is that it has stunted necessary conversations about menstrual hygiene management. This has led to menstrual hygiene being a low priority for governments, health and education ministries. For instance, there is no talk about how very necessary toilets and sanitary pads are for girls to maintain hygiene and prevent infections. Menstrual cramps had not talked about and there is no research in that area.
Not having access to safe and sanitary protection more often than not leads to girls dropping out of village schools and is also the cause of a weak woman labour force in the country.
However, more women are breaking the wall that isolates one major aspect of their feminity and identity. More and more Indian women are open to breaking the taboo and myths surrounding menstruation.
Some startups are making cloth pads and sanitary pads for women in rural areas and educating them on the subject. Many women are wearing panties for the first time and have started using sanitary pads and tampons even.
Women are comfortable talking about their menstrual concerns once they know their issues will be handled well. This is a positive step towards self-actualisation and dignity.