One those days, girls must not enter the kitchen, or the puja. In some houses, on those days, girls must have their meals separately from the rest of the family. On those days, girls must stay apart, yet not proclaim their isolation, because talking about the thing that sets them apart is shameful.
On those days, girls must take care not to use things that are used by other family members – utensils in which food has been served, shared towels, bedspreads – on those days, their touch contaminates everything. On those days, if a girl wants water, she must wait for it to be poured into a glass set aside for her.
On those days…
Do you believe that those days existed long ago? In some remote, rural area untouched by literacy and education?
On one of those days, a girl cried because she had to rush for school and food could not be served to her until the morning prayers were finished and others eaten. You see, on those days, girls may eat only after very religious family members have eaten, because food that has been served to girls on those days is polluted and cannot be served to those observing certain rituals. That girl was me, bewildered at how she became something dirty to be avoided on those days.
On one of those days, I think I became a feminist, wondering why my having a female body, with all that comes along with it, makes me a target for derision. The moment I went to a hostel, I stopped washing my hair on the fourth day of my periods – in a small, personal act of rebellion, I would wash my hair on any of the first three days, but not on the fourth, when one is supposed to wash one’s hair and cleanse oneself of the impurity of menstruation.
On those days, young girls in some areas continue to be banished, to live in a secluded, unsafe, unhygienic environment. But even in urban families where they are not, why do we continue to treat it as some kind of disease?
What exactly makes the monthly flow of blood so unclean and frightening to others?
I find it ironical that a culture which places such a high premium on women’s fertility and treats women’s bodies as wombs above anything else, treats evidence of that fertility as something dirty.
Our bodies are natural, and since all women in a given age group bleed on those days, that is entirely natural too. The fact that it only happens to women does not make it an aberration or an abomination.
I recommend everyone to read the Gloria Steinem piece, If Men Could Menstruate, to get some more perspective on why menstruation is this thing to be talked about in whispers, this unclean thing that needs to be hidden.
The truth is that menstruation is a fairly routine thing, like most other things about the human body. If at all there is a miracle in it, it is the everyday miracle of how so many things in our body – skin, nerves, blood, brain – come together to make everything work.
For the rest, girls rock, and rock on those days too.
While much lip service is paid to women as carriers of the future generation, the truth is that women around the world continue to die in childbirth, for lack of adequate medical care, and because of a past history of poverty and malnourishment.
Today’s changemaker that we’d like to highlight is Sneha, a non-profit in Mumbai working in the areas of maternal and neonatal health, as well as educating women about sexual and reproductive health. Given that women living in slums and other such communities often find it difficult to access information as well as suitable health care, Sneha reaches out to women in such areas by working with existing healthcare providers in those areas to improve the quality of delivery.
There is also focus on educating young men and women about their rights when receiving health care services, so they are better informed and can make better decisions.
Pic credit: dominique (Used under a Creative Commons license)