This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shobha Rana Grover. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

9 Customs That Oppress Women In The Name Of ‘Tradition’

More from Shobha Rana Grover

Cultural, religious and social traditions have strongly impacted the lives of women across the world. While the status of women has seen an enormous change over the past centuries, the ‘dark ages’ are not yet over for women in many countries.  Several societies continue to uphold traditions that subject them to physical, mental and sexual exploitation. Many of such sexist and inhuman practices have been abolished; however, there remain a plethora of traditions that perpetuate misogyny and abuse. For many women, remaining true to a particular custom often means excruciating pain, mutilation, and even death.

1. Force-Feeding Young Girls:

Young girls are force-fed unhealthy, high-calorie diets to make them appealing to their prospective suitors in North Africa’s Mauritania. The practice, called leblouh or gavage, has been in vogue for the past several centuries in the drought-prone country where obesity among women is celebrated and overweight girls score over their slim counterparts.  Girls as young as six are sent to special “fattening” camps during their school holidays where they are force-fed 20 litres of milk, at least two kilograms of millet and two cups of butter every day.

Girls who don’t comply are punished and sometimes forced to ingest their vomit if they throw up. The daily intake is up to 16,000 calories. Although a change in attitude is evident in urban populations following an awareness campaign by the government, the cult of obesity continues to play havoc with the lives of young women in rural Mauritania. The practice, in many regions, has taken a horrid turn as girls are now taking drugs, steroids, and even animal growth hormones to fatten up.

2. Devadasis:

The centuries-old Hindu tradition of dedicating young girls to the deity in temples continues in several parts of southern India despite being outlawed. A devadasi (servant of a god or goddess) is barred from marrying a mortal and should bestow her entire life to the service of deity and the temple. The  devadasis were originally celibate temple dancers who enjoyed high status and reverence. The practice, however, became corrupt over time turning into a system of ritualized prostitution. The girls generally hail from impoverished lower caste families. On reaching puberty, their virginity is auctioned and they are forced into full-fledged prostitution.

3. Menstruating Women Removed To Cattle Sheds:

Menstruating women in parts of Nepal are isolated and removed to cattle sheds where they sleep among cows and buffaloes. The practice of Chhaupadi, though ruled illegal by country’s top court, is still widely observed. It forbids women from entering their houses and touching anything or anyone during the duration of their menstrual period. They are confined to the filthy sheds littered with insects and dung and the excruciating stench of animal excreta hanging in the air. Women are considered ‘impure’ during their periods, and those who touch them undergo rituals to purify themselves. The menstruating women relieve themselves in the open because they are not allowed to use family lavatories. Activists say that the tradition is practised to varying degrees by women across the country. If the family owns only a single room, the menstruating member is banished to a corner as she must live separately for the  entire duration of her menstrual period.

4. Breast Ironing:

Having breasts is shameful and attracts unwanted male attention. With this idea in mind, mothers in Cameroon and several other African countries pound the breasts of their young daughters with hot iron tools or even stones to stop them from growing. The extremely painful practice of ‘breast ironing’ is carried out on girls as young as ten to delay their first sexual encounters and avoid early pregnancy. The victims suffer various physical and psychological consequences and the scars remain for life. Some possible after-effects include formation of cysts, malformed breasts and inverted nipples. Some of the victims may find it impossible to breastfeed their children. The practice has also reportedly spread to African communities in the UK.  Conservative MP Jake Berry recently demanded that this ‘ritualised form of child abuse’ be outlawed in Britain.

5. Finger Amputation To Mourn Death:

Members of Dani tribe in Papua, Indonesia are known to cut off the top part of one of their fingers to mourn death in the family. Though death affects everyone equally, only women are subjected to this agonizing ritual. Half an hour before the top part of finger is cut off, it is allowed to go numb by tightly tying a string around it. After the amputation, the finger tips are cauterized. The mutilation is based on the belief that death, being a permanent loss, should be grieved in a way that the emotional pain manifests into visible physical distress. The practice has now been banned, and younger women refrain from this extreme version of grieving. One can only find older women with chopped off finger tips nowadays.

6. Lip Plating:

Women belonging to the Mursi and Surma tribes in Ethiopia wear large circular wooden or clay discs on their lips as a mark of beauty and status. It is a form of body modification in which increasingly large discs are inserted into the lower or upper lips of young girls. The first disc is generally inserted at puberty. A hole is cut into the lip along with the removal of two to four lower teeth. A small disc is inserted into the hole leading to the stretching of the lip. After a while, generally when the cut heals, a larger disc replaces the initial disc. As the lip is stretched more and more, increasingly larger plates are inserted. The final plate that is installed could be 12 centimeter in diameter or even bigger. It is said that bigger the disc, larger is the dowry the girl receives on her wedding. It is also said that the ritual originated not as a beauty enhancement technique but as a deliberate disfigurement meant to keep slave traders at bay.

7. Sexual Cleansing Of Widows:

Widows in parts of Tanzania and Kenya undergo the ritual of ‘sexual cleansing’ after which they are ‘inherited’ by their in-laws. The custom dictates that the widow has sex with one of her brothers-in-law to exorcise the spirit of her dead spouse. Women who oppose this tradition are chased out of their matrimonial homes and not given any share in their husband’s property or livestock. Worse, the women are also ostracized by the community. The practice also exposes these women to the risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases. Very often male relatives refuse to have sex with the widow owing to HIV epidemic. In such cases, professional cleansers are hired to do the job. Using condom is a taboo as it is only the cleanser’s sperm that has the power to ‘cleanse and purify’ the widow.

8. Neck Rings:

A long and slender neck has long been considered the hallmark of beauty and grace in women. Ethnic Kayan women in Myanmar and Thailand undergo a lifetime of excruciating pain to elongate their necks as they follow a centuries-old beauty custom. The collarbone and upper ribs are deformed slowly and steadily as a girl of five starts wearing a shiny brass coil around her neck. The length of the coil is increased as the girl grows up, and an adult wears a coil with 20-25 turns around her neck. The coils could weigh anywhere between two to ten kilograms. The elongated neck, however, is only an optical illusion. As the weight of the coil pushes the collarbone and ribs down, an illusion of an elongated neck is created. The women are allowed to remove the rings only once in their lifetime – on their wedding night. The removal of these spirals is painful and tedious and takes hours.

9. Genital Mutilation:

Genital mutilation is the price young girls pay for their impending womanhood in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Female genital mutilation is the ritualistic removal – partial or complete – of the external genitalia, constituting an extreme form of discrimination against women. The custom, recognised as a gross violation of human rights, is known to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore keep her off sexual debauchery. The practice continues unabated despite being banned in many countries. The genitalia are cut by a traditional circumciser, often in unhygienic conditions, using razors, knives or even stones without anaesthesia. However, some countries have ‘medicalized’ the custom meaning that trained health workers carry out the procedure. In some communities, the procedure involves partial closure of the vaginal opening, only leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual fluid passage. The woman undergoes a painful reversal of this procedure on her wedding to allow intercourse. The health consequences suffered due to the procedure could include infection, gangrene, excessive bleeding and even death.

_

Image Source: Albert Gonzalez Farran, UNAMID, ReflectedSerendipity/Flickr

You must be to comment.

More from Shobha Rana Grover

Similar Posts

By Ananya Pal

By Unorthodox Stance

By Sukanya sahu

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below