Friday, May 29, 2020 14:15 [IST]
Last Update: Friday, May 29, 2020 08:34 [IST]
It’s 2020 and menstruation still remains a huge taboo in India. Menstruation is a natural biological phenomenon in a woman’s body. However, conceptions of menstruation and the experiences of menstruating women are often socially and culturally crafted, and coloured with patriarchal notions that discourage women from raising their voices and discussing concerns related to menstruation at their household or community level.
Persistent harmful socio-cultural norms, stigma, misconceptions and taboos around menstruation, continue to lead to exclusion and discrimination of women and girls. As such, the pervasive culture of shame and silence around menstruation, often propagated even by older women in the family, exacerbates the challenges women and girls face, limiting their knowledge and conversations on the subject. A systematic review of 88 studies, published in March 2016, showed that not even half of all girls the authors of all the studies had surveyed were aware of menstruation before its onset, menarche.
Thanks to the taboo, menstruation imposes different kinds of restrictions on woman’s life, including restraining entry to temples, the kitchen and schools; many women are prevented from touching animals (including pets) and are forced to remain secluded in ‘menstrual huts’. There is a mythical belief that during menstruation, women emit some kind of smell or rays that can potentially contaminate preserved food. So dietary restrictions are also imposed, including not eating preserved food like pickles and curd.
Around the world, millions of women still lack access basic sanitary products to manage menstrual bleeding. In India, less than 10 percent of women have access to sanitary products. Many are forced to seek alternatives, from old rags to newspapers. The use of unsanitary materials often have health implications, including reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer. The lack of adequate gender-sensitive facilities is another challenge, preventing women and girls from maintaining menstrual hygiene in a private, safe, and dignified manner. According to the World Bank, at least 500 million women and girls lack such facilities, which severely impact girls’ attendance and participation in school.
It is high time we rise up and fight this long neglected taboo. United Nations human rights experts has called on the international community to break taboos around menstruation, noting its impacts on women and girls’ human rights. It is disappointing that most governments either do not think of it as important or people at the policy-making levels do not understand how much discrimination exists still.
There is urgent the need for countries to abolish laws where women are excluded or restricted on the basis of menstruation, ensure access to hygienic products and gender-sensitive facilities, and teach comprehensive sexuality education to help break the taboo around periods. Much more has to be done to address the menstrual health needs of women and girls and to acknowledge that the failure to address them has a detrimental impact on all areas of women’s lives.