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

Throughout History, Menstrual Blood Has Either Been Worshipped Or Feared

More from Jhilmil Breckenridge

WASH logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #NoMoreLimits, a campaign by WASH United and Youth Ki Awaaz to break the silence on menstrual hygiene. If you'd like to become a menstrual hygiene champion, share your story on any one of these 5 themes here.

The room was emptying and I was walking around, picking up leftover cups of coffee, straightening chairs, and just tidying up. Two of my friends were still dallying as they left, and were giggling over how people must say ‘S _ X’ in hushed tones, recounting how one of them works in an old age home, and while sitting with women of about 80, they all were talking about their marriages and how they hated ‘sex’, again in the hushed tone, but that it had to be endured to make babies! These two were in splits thinking of other instances, like going to buy condoms and trying to say the word in hushed tones, as if it were a prayer. I chipped in, mentioning how in India, all my childhood, and even now, if you go to your neighbourhood corner store and ask for sanitary napkins, how the package is always wrapped in brown paper bags, so no one can see what you bought, while everything else is just tossed into the clear plastic bag.

In my opinion, the menstrual stigma which is perpetuated by these practices keeps young women embarrassed, hiding sanitary pads and tampons underneath other objects in purses, sometimes even being so ashamed at leaving a used pad in someone else’s bin that they carry back a used pad in their purses. It is this stigma that keeps women from pretending they even bleed when they claim menstrual cramps are just indigestion and in my own case, when once, as a teenager, my skirt got stained in school while having a particularly heavy period, I pretended I had a boil that had burst and stained my clothes.

Also consider the aisles of feminine hygiene products, the packages of deodorised products, as if to say the natural smell of women is distasteful. There are no rows of male hygiene products, no semen changing or altering products, why then are there feminine washes, douches, deodorised liners and more that keep on enforcing that what comes out of a woman — breast milk, sweat, vaginal discharge, and blood — is dirty, to be masked, or changed?

Perhaps some ancient taboos around menstruation stem from most major religions; consider “go apart from women during the monthly course, do not approach them until they are clean,” Quran 2:222, or the Bible — “…in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean… whoever touches…shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening,” Leviticus 15. Zoroaster had menstruating women punished for approaching either fire or water. St. Jerome wrote, “Nothing is so unclean as a woman in her periods, what she touches she causes to become unclean.”

From the 8th to the 11th Centuries, many church laws denied any menstruating woman access to church buildings. As late as 1684, it was still ordered that women in their ‘fluxes’ must remain outside the church door. Pliny defined menstruation as “a fatal poison, corrupting and decomposing, depriving seeds of their fecundity, destroying insects and blasting garden flowers and grasses, causing fruits to fall from branches, dulling razors.” Janet Chawla, a Delhi based anthropologist and feminist scholar working around indigenous faiths and the cultures around traditional midwives and women’s bodies, wryly wonders, I don’t think Pliny actually observed, or did experiments on these phenomena! And of course, we all know of Hinduism and the prevention of menstruating women in temples and inner sanctums.

Indeed, even the first Latin encyclopaedia (73 AD) states – “Contact with menstrual blood turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.” This, of course, corroborates what we were told as young women, if you touch the pickle while you have a period, the pickle will go off and get fungus.

But perhaps if we go further back to when women were worshipped in ancient Pagan cultures, or even in our own Tantra. Consider the following image taken from a 12th-century yogini temple in Orissa, which shows people praying under a yoni (as a vagina is called in Sanskrit), or an icon of the vagina, we can see that there was no stigma around menstruation then, in fact, it was considered a glorious thing. Downward pointing triangles are often depictions of vaginas, and in the image, you can clearly see the clitoris in the middle.

Blood was considered sacred, bleeding a sign of fertility. There was nothing dirty about it in ancient temples, but as Gita Thadani mentions in her book, “Moebius Trip: Digressions from India’s Highways”, there has been a suppression and a distortion of this female centred glory, where original Sanskrit texts were translated incorrectly on purpose, changing the feminine to masculine. Yoni Tantra which is a classic part of Tantra literature says: “If one should worship the yoni, bowing thrice with a flower, all karmas are destroyed and nothing in the three worlds becomes unattainable… One should always smear a line of menstrual blood or sandal paste (on the forehead) …” Imagine Brahmin priests who are currently banning women from entering temples worshipping them, smearing their bodily fluids on their foreheads. The image makes me smile!

In 2015, a marathon runner in London, Kiran Gandhi decided to run the race without a tampon, sanitary pad or any protection. She says in her blog, she ran with blood streaming down her legs for all the women who don’t have access to sanitary pads, etc., and for sisters who despite cramping and pain, pretend like it does not exist. She ran and blogged and spoke about it to empower other women to own their bodies, to speak honestly about their own periods, and to love themselves despite any of these things, considered unattractive by the modern, patriarchal world, and to create a world that is more inclusive and loving of women’s bodies, with all their miracles and messiness. However, her race and her words caused a lot of furore and she said, there is a long way to go in fighting menstrual stigma. This is still true today.

The body is sacred. All ancient texts say this. When people get married, they vow to worship each other with their bodies. Blood is sacred, being used in ancient initiation ceremonies, and more. The wisdom of the body always wins, the body always is in charge, whatever the mind tries to do. It’s time to come home to the innate wisdom and tune into the body. It is time to stop hiding your period, your blood. Claim it as your birthright. There was never a better time than now.

Let's ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period by making menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools.

Tweet To HRD Minister Sign the petition

You must be to comment.

More from Jhilmil Breckenridge

Similar Posts

By Paribha Vashist

By Naureen Shafiq

By Nazariya LGBT

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

  • “Every 15 Minutes, A Crime Is Committed Against A Dalit Person” Will We Find A ‘Cure’ For Caste-Based Violence? Start writing
  • The Darker Side Of The System: What Do You Think Of Police Brutality In India? Start writing
  • What Is One Movie Or Tv Show That You Can’t Stop Thinking About? Start writing
  • How Do We Begin Dismantling Locker Rooms That Carry On The Old Tradition Of Gendered Abuse? Start writing
  • What Lessons Have You Learnt During This Lockdown. Start writing

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

  • Mobilising young people between the age of 18-35 to become ‘Eco-Period Champions’ by making the switch to a sustainable menstrual alternative and becoming advocates for the project
  • All existing and upcoming public institutions (pink toilets, washrooms, schools, colleges, government offices, government buildings) across East Delhi to have affordable provisions for sustainable menstrual product options

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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