3 Reasons Why Period Talk Is Still Taboo in the Medical Field

In the absence of basic facilities like washrooms or period leave, how are female employees expected to perform efficiently?

Why is talking about menstruation considered a taboo even in this day and age? We worship female Goddesses and yet, a menstruating female is not allowed to enter a place of worship when she is on her period!

Even though I am a doctor and come from a family of doctors, it took me 30 years to openly tell my father and brothers whenever I am on my period. If we hesitate to tell this to even family, then what of work colleagues?

No washrooms for women

I did my fellowship in a reputed eye hospital in Pondicherry from 2019 to 2021. During this phase, we as fellows along with post-graduate students, had to bear the first and maximum onslaught of the daily OPD load (minimum of 200 patients per doctor per day), working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On most months, I would try my best to swallow a painkiller during my heavy period and make it to work, because we were allowed only 14 leaves per year. There was no such thing as a medical leave, mind you. If you exceeded the allowed 14 days, you would get an extension to the duration of your PG course/ fellowship! So, forget a period leave.

On those few days when my dysmenorrhoea was especially nasty and I had to take an off day, I would face severe reprimanding from my department head the next day (who was a female too, by the way), who would say, ‘Stop making excuses to skip work! During my fellowship days, I would change 7 to 8 pads per day and yet go on working. You girls these days are so weak and want it easy!’

If even a woman cannot understand another woman, is it fair to expect it from men, I wonder!

Then came weekly camps, where each of us would screen a minimum of 500 patients per day. We would travel on bumpy roads to faraway villages, at least 3 hours away, in the scorching heat. At the campsites, we would be allotted stuffy rooms with defunct fans.

After seeing every 100 patients or so, we would somehow squeeze past the throng of patients for a washroom break, smuggling a sanitary pad, crushing it in a closed palm. Even those basic breaks were frowned upon by the nursing staff (females again) as we were ‘wasting’ those precious ten minutes when we could have screened another 20 patients, ignoring our full bladders and pads!

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There was one camp conducted in a supposed marriage hall, which did not even have a washroom facility. When I, the only female doctor in the group, asked the organizers to point me to the washroom, they merely blinked as if I was asking about Bigfoot. How could I tell them then that I was on my period, when they had no common sense to even understand something so basic?

I refused to see patients until they made arrangements for a decent washroom, considering that all the nursing staff who had travelled with us to the venue were females too. Only then did they so kindly ‘allow’ us to use the washroom in one of the organizer’s homes, which was a five-minute walk away from the venue.

When I complained to the Camp-in-charge doctor at our hospital about the same, citing a lack of basic facilities he merely said, ‘You have to adjust, Doctor!’

Reasons why any talk of period is still frowned upon

The first reason is a lack of empathy and understanding, about the extent of pain and discomfort we face. It is sadly considered ‘Normal’, even by women, to suffer through menstrual pain and not make a fuss about it. Therefore, they look down on and shame women who dare to take a break from work on their period. This is due to the patriarchal mindset ingrained into us as we grew up, where even talking about menstruation was taboo, and a woman on her period was considered impure.

The second is the lack of basic facilities for women at workplaces, such as clean washrooms. Many who do not even have washrooms at places of work are forced to use public paid washrooms where sanitation is deplorable.

The third is absence of period leave. This again stems from a lack of understanding, awareness, and patriarchy, which sets unrealistic expectations on women. A woman is expected to smile through her period, be courteous and polite, not complain at work, and God forbid, she says it out loud that she is menstruating!

Period leave is a dire necessity, as basic as washrooms, and needs to be implemented to ensure that women can work comfortably without dropping out of the workforce.

Let us come together, raise our voices, and talk Period!


Image source: CanvaPro

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About the Author

Lavnya Krishnamurthy

Doctor (Ophthalmologist) by profession and a writer by passion read more...

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