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Awareness of menstruation suffers in the quest to shield boys and men from any real knowledge about periods (why do they need to be protected?!) in our society.
“Precisely what menstruation is, is not yet very well known.” – Granville Stanley Hall.
The quote above can be interpreted on many grounds; I am not a medical expert, so it is inappropriate for me to talk about its medical interpretation, but, the quote is also relevant in the social sphere. We certainly do not know much about menstruation as a laywoman/layman. And the root cause of the unawareness are the menstrual taboos.
I still remember the day my school teachers had introduced us to the menstrual cycle. It was through an interactive educational session that was conducted by an NGO to spread awareness among girls on the monthly rise and fall of hormones. Most of us were naive on the topic, and of course, few were pretending too. Back then, to know less about the monthly cycle was a fad, it was supposed to be discussed behind closed doors, in whispering voices, and the conversation used to end with a ‘Shush!’.
We were the youngest batch participating in the session and were giggling while watching the powerpoint presentation and videos. But that open discussion had taught me a lot about what is it to be born as a female. We were making fun of the gift hamper that the team gave at the end of the session. The hamper had a guide, a sample sanitary pad, a leaflet in which there was a pictorial demonstration of exercise/yoga poses to ease cramps on periods. After the session was over and when we went to the classroom, we were trying to hide the hamper from our teachers, boys of our class, as if it was a sin to own it.
Bloodstains on the skirt were embarrassing, and the other girls used to make a serpentine queue to hide the girl’s stained dress from others.
It was only after that first face off with the leak week that I realised the need of the session that was imparted to us beforehand by that NGO. I still remember how restlessly I was looking everywhere in my study room for that leaflet that the NGO had given in the hamper. Had I not attended the session, there would have been many queries unanswered for a long time.
One of my girlfriends’ mum succumbed to injuries following a car accident; it happened when my friend was in ninth standard. That was a terrible incident. And what bothered me the most was, who would she communicate with about her monthly sanitary requirements? Who would she talk about her painkiller emergencies? She was the only female left in the family after her mother’s demise. Girls could only speak of these things to another woman.
Thankfully, the scenario has changed a lot, but still, we find such examples now and then, We see chemists handover the sanitary pads in a black polybag and at cities where the polybags are banned, they wrap it in a newspaper as if we are dealing with weeds or some prohibited drugs secretly. When we go to a medical store to grab our period essentials, we usually wait for the crowd to scatter. One day, I called for it in a jam-packed medical shop, Bhaiya Whisper Ultra Dena! And many eyeballs glued to me; the aunties were giving me those annoyed looks: ‘What an uncultured girl!’ they must be murmuring. Few young men around were giving me those nasty, cheesy looks.
In fact, guys are usually not fully aware of menstruation, the problem of irregular periods, what are the other emotional, physical symptoms of it, until the time they get married or get into a relationship and hear the in and out about the topic from their partner.
Why are they not educated enough about female reproductive health? Why is it that such conversations usually happens between a mother and a daughter? Why do we never include our sons in the discussions? In fact, it is considered the mother’s job always to talk on these topics. Why are males apathetic toward menses pain of their mother, sister, wife or girlfriend?
Well, many gather information on periods through the internet, but the purpose is mostly to take a dig at girls or just for shallow knowledge. They are never taught sensibly about the emotional turmoil and physical pain that a female goes through during that time. It’s hard to see a brother who is considerate toward his sister or a son who is taking care of his mother because she is on her period, and struggling with the cramps. A girl does not feel very comfortable discussing her ‘chums’ with her father, brother, boyfriend. Yeh hamare sanskaar nahin!
In many households even today, the females are barred from entering the kitchen during these days of the month, and she only gets the clean chit after a spray of sacred water (Ganga Jal) on/after the fifth day of periods.
This opaqueness refrains us from becoming educated on this subject. Periods are not just about bloodstains – there is a lot of biology associated with it. It says a lot about our reproductive health, and there is nothing abnormal about having regular monthly periods. Not having it can be a worrying symptom. The cultural practice of considering the menses a taboo is adversely impacting the girls, and it fuels the sentiment of exclusion.
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