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The taboos around periods don’t just affect how women and girls look at it, but also their mental health and adds stress. Time we stopped stigmatising periods?
A society is defined by its beliefs, which translate into practices and further spill into its systems like family, marriage and gender roles. Today, in most places in India, the elders’ word is sacrosanct and age-old beliefs continue to dictate how one conducts oneself in daily life. But more often than not, these beliefs and customs – designed with a clear winner and loser – end up hurting the society in implicit ways.
Such is the tale of the cultural practices and beliefs around menstruation that, to this day, are imposed on women. And it leads to them suffering under the burden, impacting their mental wellbeing. Until now, rarely has the discussion on periods inched forward from the incessant discussions on sanitary pads and hygiene.
The absence of the talk on mental trauma borne out of the way we view menstruation in this country is a cost paid by women unanimously. However, the psychosocial stress attached to menstruation remains under-assessed. One may say that there is bigger fish to fry – but it is clear as day that mental issues related to periods are as large of an issue as they come. But the biggest travesty is that this problem is entirely society-borne.
It would be incorrect to say that the mental aspects of menstruation have been completely ignored. Recently, the civil society, along with the the state, has been pioneering the issue through their efforts in the form of awareness programs, IEC campaigns and sanitation drives.
However, the negative attitudes towards menstruation and importantly, of those who go through it, exist largely. And the reason for this is the inveterate prejudice against the issue that is still intact in the minds of societies.
Adolescent girls upon experiencing their menarche discover an entirely new life of suffering. The making of menstruation a mentally painful experience culminates from the plight of sanitation in the country. Right from the lack of water and hygiene, to functional toilets, and knowledge on the usage and disposal of absorbents make it a painful experience.
Amidst such challenges, thousands of girls have to give up formal education with restrictions on their movement and activities stacking up as soon as they begin menstruating. There exist prohibitions on choices too, on eating certain food items, wearing what one wants, coming in contact with objects that may become ‘impure’ for others.
Even today, many ethnic communities have institutionalised practices. Women and girls are often asked to stay in different rooms or compounds of the house and are treated with separatist attitudes.
Years of stigma, shame and embarrassment accumulate trauma, this often surfaces in the form of compulsive behaviour, anxiety and depressive disorders. Older women at the behest of their suffering often end up causing self-affliction by going through procedures like hysterectomy.
They also impose the same painful beliefs they’ve carried as a burden all their lives on the generations to follow. And younger girls, upon reaching maturity, experience disenfranchisement with their identity as females.
The general understanding and misinformation regarding what is happening to their bodies, and the practices imposed on them, help accumulate fear and worry amongst. This affects their choices, functioning and health.
Widespread misinformation along with degrading views go a long way to facilitate psychosocial stress amongst women. The mother of all beliefs and traditions is a deep faith in the process being a sign of ‘impurity.’
Pharmacies, even in urban areas, sell sanitary pads and tampons clandestinely, shrouding them under layers of newspapers, demonstrating the sentiment of shame towards periods. Women and girls carry a constant fear of being ‘caught’ menstruating, through stains on their clothes or with pads in their hands – both epitomising shame and embarrassment.
The issue is a deeper one. Periods are but one phenomenon associated primarily with females. The way we view menstruation in our country poses as an intersection of various problems faced by women. These include poverty, gender inequality, lack of access to health care and sanitation facilities, lack of education and regressive cultural expectations.
The culmination of the perspective on periods is founded on structural violence inflicted upon women at various levels of social interaction. Whether we acknowledge the existence of psychosocial stress is contingent upon the recognition of overall mental health issues women experience in our country due to gender roles.
Great structural change, comes with extensive responsibilities. The case for bettering menstruation as an experience for women needs to be made in a stratified manner. This needs to be done in order to include all segments of the society and a basic understanding of the issue by all.
Menstruation is an issue connected with men as much with women. To make a change, active involvement of men is not only required it is also ideal. A comprehensive and structural hygiene plan is needed for revolutionising menstruation in the country.
What we need is a bigger change for addressing the diverse forms of violence that women face at different levels of their lives. Not only that, we need collective action turned into support for them.
With wider support, women will not be driven to circumstances of despondency and dependency. They will be able to gain the long-overdue rights for their own bodies and greater negotiation power in deciding over issues related to them.
By breaking a long-drawn tradition of submission, they can develop a collective consciousness, embracing their identities as women. But most importantly, see menstruation for what it is – a natural and necessary process for the procreation of mankind.
It is crucial we ascertain one thing: periods are beyond the issue of pads. They are about how we as a community, view women.
Picture credits: YouTube
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A menstrual hygiene management trainer by profession, and a lover of words—written and spoken,
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