It was during one of my visits to my home. I encountered that even after living in a metro for 15 years, being literate and, most of all, being a woman, my mother actually had very stereotypical notions about the concept of the natural cycle of reproduction, i.e., the menstrual cycle. Although she uses sanitary napkins during her periods, but because she was not aware of the menstrual cycle, she actually discriminated against our pet bitch when it bled through the vagina. What is more, she was not even ready to talk about this issue with me, her own son.
The menstrual cycle is the series of changes a woman’s body goes through every month to prepare a possible pregnancy. Each month one of the ovaries releases one egg and when the egg is not fertilised it results in internal bleeding in the uterus released from the vagina. Women go through hormonal changes in their body biologically during the menstrual period. But many women in India face discrimination by social exclusion. The lack of sanitary facilities makes it harder.
Every year during summers I usually visit my grandparents’ in my village in Almora district of Uttarakhand. And what I see are women evicted from their households because of their bleeding as they are considered totally untouchable even by their husbands. They get temporary parole from the harmful chullha because both the pain and curse of human life is obtruded upon their head.
During their menstrual cycle, women don’t have access to washrooms for washing clothes and even for bathing. They are not allowed to travel let alone allowing them into temples. But they are put to work, hard agricultural work, back breaking firewood collection, etc. Such hypocrisy! My own mother went through the same kind of discrimination when we used to live in the village. And this is the true story of a family which has had teachers from my grandparents’ generation, most of the people are government employees and all the children go to school.
A recent report by BBC said that women in Indian cities still buy sanitary pads in brown bags or newspapers because they feel ashamed. The share of women who do that is as high as 75 percent.
According to The Huffington Post, each month nearly 30 percent of the girls have to miss school because of their periods in Nepal. They prefer to stay away from school as they are not allowed to touch books for three to seven days every month. Also, they do not have privacy for cleaning and washing at school.
The girls of sub-Saharan Africa and rural India don’t attend school and social occasions because of the taboo and stigma related to menstruation. “There are 312 million women in India who do not have access to hygienic and effective menstrual protection. Yes, that is 9 out of 10 women in India who are constrained by their own bodies every single month. As a result, women resort to damaging improvisations such as dirty rags or old leaves, which can eventually lead to irreparable health problems and diminished self-worth.”
The problem lies not merely in the lack of education. The real problem is the kind of education we all have in our system in India where talking about sex education is really hard and sometimes prohibited as well. Only when we will include this in the textbook syllabus of schools and universities and will teach it openly in the classrooms and public meetings would be able to overcome the taboo and abolish the discrimination behind it. We will then become capable of having sanitation and sanitary pads available to all. And when we will do that, then no one will question the cycle of my birth or your birth. Or the cycle of existence of the human race.