Puberty can be pretty crazy. Happily, exhilarated for her 11th birthday, shopping for the perfect doll at a mall outlet, Priya started screeching and sobbing with intense pain. People stared. It was the worst pain she had ever undergone around her crotch. She didn’t know what was exactly happening to her body. Checking herself, she found blood, lots of blood, the blood which now made her impure. She went back home scared, embarrassed, and impromptu contemplating her childhood has ended.
Priya is not alone.
Over 26% of the global population experience a similar mental, physical and emotional turbulence in their life. Menstruation, also known as Menarche, Periods (nickname varies); A fact of life which is as common as any biological phenomenon including respiration, digestion, or breathing is looked down upon as a dirty shameful, and humiliating ‘women problem.’
A natural and normal vaginal bleeding that comes up as a part of the monthly cycle is mumbled about behind closed doors in hushed silence. The menstruation cycle is a driven cycle that ensues at the age of 10-15 and lasts until about age 45-55 in women. It occurs for 7 days in a month. A stigma, taboo in social ethics passed onto the modern era and most importantly the prejudiced human introspective unfortunately leads to biased gender discrimination. A sign of a healthy body and womanhood is relegated with myths across the globe. This has eventually given surge to social, cultural, and religious norms, and acknowledging these myths have made it even difficult for women to talk about it. There is a sense of silence, embarrassment, and acceptance among them.
The scenario of most educational institutions is sickening as “Menstruation” as a topic is barely discussed in classrooms. Both teachers and students find it the best thing to giggle and laugh upon in embarrassment, building around an atmosphere of shame and secretiveness. Lurking around, hiding sanitary napkins as an illegal weapon, and hastening to the washroom has always been a challenge for teenage girls. Above all, with all the shame, secrecy, and cramps they don’t have an access to proper sanitation (availability of water, and hand-wash) and menstrual hygiene products (pads, tampons, pain reliever.)
A survey conducted by Patan Academy of Health Science in the year 2018 shows that about 83.3% of 168 girls of grade ninth and tenth were found missing their classes. 13.7 % of girls missed school while they were menstruating.
With an abundance of superstitions entailing in different countries including restriction from entering the temple, kitchen, touching pickles, chopping vegetables, touching men, not washing hair, to losing one’s virginity echoes the lack of awareness and education among people. According to the report by the Ahmedabad Mirror, In Gujarat, more than 60 college girls, had to leave their classes in between, line up, and remove their underpants to show they weren’t menstruating. This was done to validate charges leveled against the girls that they violated the religious standards specified in the premises by entering the temple and kitchen.
In Rural India, the situation is hazardous. Over half of the girls aren’t aware of menstruation when they first encounter it. 80% of girls experience negative emotions. Due to lack of menstrual hygiene, many women are impelled to use rags, an old piece of clothes, animal skin, or leaves inflating the risk of a fatal disease. A report by the ministry of health states that out of 355 million women menstruating in India, only 12% have access to sanitary napkins.
When menstruation is a normal process, showing it should be too. Tv commercials normalizing menstruation depicts and validates society’s stigmatized notion. In Endorsements, we see sanitary pads brands using ubiquitous blue liquid instead of red against nature. (Who on earth bleeds blue?) Wearing white pants, running, jumping fences just because pads have wings misrepresents menstruation and makes men viewers not infer the fluctuating emotions such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, and pain a woman goes through at that time of the month.
The period pain, medically known as “Dysmenorrhea” hinders the daily activity of nearly 20% of women. The patriarchal society leaves no recourse to make periods look sexual or obscene. We live in a society where sanitary napkins are packed in a black polybag by the vendors. The black polythene indicates the deeply rooted notion of the misogynistic, sexist, and patriarchal society which hurls shame and humiliation upon women every-time they step outdoor to buy a pad. With the onset of the pandemic, a limited supply of sanitary products with shops closed had eventually impacted the one who menstruates.
For time being, imagine a 12-year-old homeless girl getting periods on the streets with no insight of what she just discovered. She has to deal with all of it throughout her life in a public toilet with no access to menstrual products and sanitation.
Although a slow change is witnessed, Menstruation, and Menstrual hygiene as a health concept is being embraced and talked about in society. As part of the “Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karakoram” initiative, in 2014 the government introduced a national menstrual hygiene programme. The goal of the scheme was to stimulate menstrual hygiene in rural girls by providing self-help groups and training them for health services. The year 2018 brought a significant change in society through films like ‘Padman‘ and ‘Period. End of sentence.’ Both films illustrate the worsening condition of women in rural India. It depicts the existence of a hesitant and oblivious society in the 21st where women’s hygiene is a hoax. In partnership with Gram panchayat, ‘ATREE’ a non-profit organization is focusing on the development of the sanitation-free India of Muhamma, India. This is being done in an area where 25% of the women still use clothes instead of sanitary napkins, or tampons.
Menstruation is a wide phenomenon that should not be constrained to women. The only way to conquer this stigma is by bridging the gap between education and awareness. Men should be educated and made aware of it. Women must be taught to feel confident and regale it as a strength of their womanhood.
To end the period-poverty, menstruation hygiene products must be made available at affordable prices. A social issue, cannot be achieved only through governmental efforts unless it’s addressed at the community or familial level.
Menstruation is absolutely normal.
Just like we breathe or eat, we menstruate.
We need to understand that Menstruation is not a problem, menstrual hygiene is.
Without menstruation we would not exist and how can something that has the potential to bring new life can be filthy, dirty, or humiliating?
You can also read more on Gender-related issues: Gender Issues