Women have been bleeding for years. But the myths, misconceptions and stigma around menstruation across the world haven’t ceased.
Let’s get the facts straight. A girl’s first period is one of the most significant changes in her life – a biological change that affects her whole being. But in India, this natural experience is treated like a curse. From being shut away to being barred from entering places of worship, a woman on her period is discriminated against in various ways.
Then there’s the problem of sanitation. In India according to census 2011, 89% of the national rural population lives in households that lack toilets. Further, because of lack of access, affordability, and sanitary means of disposal, only 48.2% women age between 15-24 years use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual periods. Indeed, these factors have made the monthly period nothing short of a nightmare for the Indian girl.
But, I recently found out that this is not the case in India alone. I came across an article on Women’s Health magazine, which elaborated on the various ways women in the rest of the world deal with menstruation. And things didn’t look much better outside India too.
This is not all. Customs around the world present many challenges to women’s health and deny them the right to their bodies, subjecting them to many psychosocial pathologies.
In India in particular, many think that this is a problem limited to rural areas, but the truth is that even in the urban settings the patriarchal gaze always instils a need to apologise when menstruation is mentioned in public.
Why do we need to care about this?
For one, this expression of apology because of one’s body has given birth to self-loathing, isolation, poor self-esteem, low level of confidence, fear, shame, submissive response to sexual violence and forced drop out from education and work among many young women. Further, it reinforces the inability to speak about one’s genitals, reproductive organs, and sexual intercourse, stigmatising these issues even more. This only damages the psychosocial well-being of women and increases the risk of her rights to her body and identity being taken away. Lack of awareness, poor menstrual health management, weaker support systems, poor sanitation, and poor access to clean water only makes young girls and women face increased amount of shame and feeling of worthlessness.
And this needs to change right now. Because many girls drop out from schools and workplaces, risk sexual violence, and make poor reproductive choices, which contributes largely to the larger problem of gender imbalance, especially in India.