Discussing the myths relating to menstruation, why they persist and how we can challenge them
The word “menstruation” is often associated with adjectives such as anxiety, embarrassment, and fear. Despite being a natural bodily function, it is synonymous with myths and secrecy. In India, while we have progressed in creating awareness around it, menstruation is still a taboo. Myths around menstruation have contributed to serious consequences and misinformation in all peripheries, especially for those who lack access to basic resources like menstrual hygiene products and access to toilets.
“Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to purify themselves before resuming their everyday life.”
In India to date, menstruation is seen as something impure and dirty. Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to purify themselves before resuming their daily life. In many households, they are not allowed to do puja (prayer) or even enter a temple when they are menstruating. They are not allowed to touch and offer their prayers to holy books. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch anyone or enter the kitchen. They are excluded from activities and kept away from the rest of society. These practices exist and persist because of the backward cultural and religious beliefs that are propagated by society and passed on through generations.
Menstruation is also linked to unaccepted cultural norms and traditions. It is said that it is associated with evil spirits, embarrassment and shame around sexual reproduction. In some areas, women are made to bury their clothes after they complete their cycle. The retrograde myth personifies that blood can be used as black magic and it can be used to assert the woman’s will on a man. The same blood from which a baby is created is considered impure. Studies show that about 71% of adolescent girls remain unaware of menstruation until they experience their first menstrual cycle.
“Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts.”
Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts. Instead, they should foster a sense of equality especially when menstruation is biological and natural. Instead of women being empowered and feeling supported they are made to feel inferior, weak and abnormal. To name a few countries and their regressive superstitions around menstruation:
|Country||Superstition about menstruation|
|The USA and the UK||You cannot have a shower |
If you touch any vegetable when menstruating, it will rot
|Nepal||You cannot be in your house or come in contact with anybody|
|Romania||You cannot touch flowers, they will die quicker|
|Brazil||You can’t wash your hair when you are on your period|
|Philippines||When you first get your period you need to wash your face with the first menstrual blood to have clear skin|
“In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or in a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate.”
In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate. Girls and women are made to sleep on wooden planks without any basic necessities. This results in some of them being bitten by snakes and some of them are raped, harassed or murdered. In 2019 two girls aged 14 and 19 died because of a snake bite when they were residing in the cowsheds.
These existing societal myths and taboos around menstruation have impacted the self-esteem of women. In less developed countries a lot of girls have to drop out of school when they start menstruating. This is because a large percentage of women face stomach pain or cramps during their periods and only 20% of girls are able to get medicine for cramps.
“According to NFHS (National Family Health Survey), 42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth.”
According to NFHS (National Family Health Survey), 42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth. Moreover, lack of menstrual hygiene such as access to just 5-6 sanitary napkins for each woman for a whole month, lack of water or proper toilets in the house, and not being allowed to bathe during menstruation has led to serious health consequences like reproductive tract infections. Poor access to menstrual products continues to be a barrier to achieve complete coverage of menstrual hygiene. 88% of women in India have been recorded as using homemade alternatives such as rags, hay, ash and cloth. The question that arises is how we can put an end and take the first step for all girls and women to have access to menstrual hygiene?
“FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world.”
FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world. Anjali at the age of 16, founded this non-profit organisation. They conduct menstrual hygiene management sessions that outline certain do’s and don’ts, Biology behind periods and busting prevalent myths and superstitions to the underprivileged menstruators. In addition to this, they also provide biodegradable or reusable cloth pads as a more eco-friendly alternative to disposable plastic pads. So far, they have conducted sessions with thousands of underprivileged women at schools, slums, orphanages, sex-trafficking rescue homes, and NGOs across the country, and been able to provide menstrual products to cover over 75, 000 periods. Alongside running campaigns on social media, they have also been able to set up operational chapters in the UK, Algeria and Malawi.
Here are more suggestions on how we can overcome and combat these barriers:
1. The government must play an integral role in bringing a change in the system. Policies to promote menstrual hygiene by inculcating it in school curriculums is urgently needed so young children are aware and don’t blindly follow cultural myths. Menstrual hygiene education should be a priority. For example, the government of Goa introduced an educational module to encourage menstrual education and inculcate it in the curriculum. Low-cost sanitary pads should be locally made and distributed especially in rural and slum areas. In 2010, India launched a campaign called National Rural Health Mission to improve menstrual hygiene for 15 million adolescent girls and provide them with low-cost sanitary pads.
2. Corporations and the media have the medium to change and mould perspectives in society. They should voice their opinions on gender equality and help break social taboos that still exist today in society. An exceptional campaign on menstruation was conducted by P&G. In 2014, it was one of the first campaigns in which any brand or institution in India talked about periods and it’s associated taboos on a large scale. It not only helped people talk about periods openly but also stirred a conversation as well as acceptance between men and women.
3. NGOs and social organisations also could contribute largely to promoting menstrual hygiene in their communities. As mentioned above FullStopp is looking for volunteers to help them. You can also donate to such organisations to provide sanitary napkins to the underprivileged menstruators.
4. The entertainment industry has also played as a catalyst in reaching out and educating people about menstrual hygiene. The film industry should create more movies like Padman and The period to make the conversation much stronger. Indian actor Akshay Kumar is a part of Niinemovement that has been conceived by social entrepreneur Tulsiyan in the ray of hope to inspire women, break taboos about menstrual hygiene and bridge the gap between sanitary napkin users. The documentary “Period. End of a Sentence” gained attention worldwide when it was recognised and awarded the Academy Award for best documentary in 2019.
All in all, these stakeholders should work together with their very own strengths to break the societal myths and secrecy associated with menstruation. Dealing with menstruation is difficult as it is and societal stigma makes it even harder. It is time for societies to come together to combat these beliefs. It is time for the colour red to become a symbol of purity and shatter centuries of myths about menstruation.
Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.
Design by Hemashri Dhavala