When Period Taboos Keep Girls Away From Their Right To An Education And More…!

Adolescent girls struggle to understand what’s happening to their bodies when they have their first period, and every day women and girls face stigma and taboos around menstruation.

Nearly 70 female students at an institute in Gujarat’s Bhuj were pressured to remove their undergarments by their principal to prove that they were not menstruating. This incident happened in the year 2020, in an era of strong dialogues on the empowerment of women and smashing patriarchy.

Is it justified? Is it logical? Isn’t it sexist?

So, why are women ridiculed and shamed for something that they cannot control and for something that does not control them?

Women make up 50% of the world’s population and for most of them, menstruation is a monthly occurrence. The average woman menstruates for 3,000 days during her lifetime. Periods should be the most normal thing ever. Yet, even today, women have to fight for being treated with dignity.

But why is it unspeakable? Why is it a socio-cultural taboo? Or just a myth?

Period taboos keep girls and women away from an education, and much more

Menstruation has always been surrounded by taboos and myths that exclude women from many aspects of socio-cultural life. One belief that’s usually common across the different narratives on menstrual blood is that it is very powerful. Whether this power is positive or negative, it results in excluding women for a certain period of time from everyone and everything around. This exclusion is mostly without the choice of the women, as they are forced to buy into a certain narrative on menstrual blood at an early age, without the freedom to question it.

There is a long history of menstrual taboos across nearly all cultures. They are prohibited from going into temples, mosques, and gurudwaras and they are not supposed to touch any holy book. They cannot get inside the kitchen. It has always been a secret business which has to be managed privately and discreetly. It’s so much so that it can impact her sexuality and her knowledge about her sexual body. Shame and silence harms women. Adolescent girls struggle to understand what’s happening to their bodies when they have their first period, and every day women and girls face stigma and taboos around menstruation.

The only sexual conversation happens with a girl which can’t even be termed as conversation is when she got her first periods. And it goes like, “It happens to all, now you are grown up, live carefully’.

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In many cultures, the menstrual cycle was seen as a gift and when a girl would menstruate for the first time, it would be celebrated in public. But this again is a problematic view as the menstrual cycle was seen as a boon for reproduction. Even when people celebrated it, they had a reductionist view that a woman’s ultimate goal in life is reproduction.

Are menstruation taboos the cause of leading menstrual health problems in India?

Close to 70% per cent of Indian women risk getting severe infection, at times causing death, due to poverty, ignorance and shame attached to their menstruation cycle. Taboos about menstruation present in many societies impact on girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly, health. Every cycle has been accompanied by painful cramps, mood swings, bad breakouts, and severe headaches

Do our men know enough?

Men and boys typically know even less, but it is important for them to understand menstruation so they can support their wives, daughters, mothers, employees, and peers. It is not enough to worship her as Durga and Kali during Navratri, you must accept her physiology too. You can’t decide when she is pure or clean.

And those “that time of the month” jokes!

This idea that women are completely irrational and incapable of operating as they usually do during their menstrual cycle is a myth. Women have been bleeding once a month since the dawn of time and even during “that time of the month” and they have achieved greatness.

Denying young girls an opportunity to question, debate and make their own opinion on something as personal as menstrual blood, is denying them a choice to engage with their bodies on their terms.

It is taking away a right to ask questions that affects their gender identity.

As we all begin to talk about periods and the topic becomes more welcomed into everyday discussion, then people will also start to realize how much change there needs to be surrounding the education and policies relating to periods.

When you hear menstruation, don’t feel alarmed or uncomfortable, talk about it openly…Period !!!

Change the mindset. If you are uncomfortable, it’s time to get comfortable.

Image source: By GMR Akash – This file has been provided by UNESCO (unesco.org) as part of a GLAM-Wiki partnership., CC BY-SA 3.0 igo 

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About the Author

Anushree Dash

Gender Equality Advocate, TEDx Speaker, Social Reformer, Sociopreneur, Human Rights Activist, Pad woman of Odisha , Writer, Motivational Speaker, Art connoisseur... An impenitent, non-conformist, adventurous, boho soul and an admirer of life. Loves my Indian read more...

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