The menstrual cycle is a natural part of the female human life. If you are born as a female, it is 100% normal to have a menstrual cycle at puberty. But the irony is, the moment you talk about the very normal menstrual cycle, people feel embarrassed. And the saddest part is that religion has also ensured that our very natural menstrual cycle should be treated as something dirty.
When the Sabarimala temple case came up in court, some religious “sentiments” found this case as an attack on religion rather than viewing it as an attack on the mentality about the menstrual cycle. This disgusted attitude towards menstrual cycle has resulted in low awareness about menstrual hygiene. Moreover, in families, parents are reluctant to talk about menstruation with their daughters let alone about menstrual hygiene.
The reason this biological phenomenon is treated with embarrassment is the obsession with hiding the female body. There is a silent acceptance among the society that even discussions about the female body and female sexuality, can lead men “astray” and society can become morally corrupt—though the opposite happens more often. The more we make an effort to keep the topic of female body private, the more the subject is discussed. But in our effort to curtail discussions on the subject, we actually make way for more heated arguments and obnoxious commentaries, which often cross all the limits of decency.
Rather than controlling the narrative, which can benefit society as a whole, we make room for uninformed discussions and stereotypes. The result is the lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene among women and girls as the families do not discuss it. Everyone feels shy, and whether it’s a male or female member of the family, they find it hard even to utter the word “menstrual cycle”.
The first step to making menstrual hygiene as normal as any other hygiene routine is to change the deep-rooted prejudice of society that talking about the female body will lead to the objectification of women by men. Teaching children about normal bodily functions such as menstruation is crucial, and it can definitely make it easier to discuss problems related to hygiene. The children need to be trained to accept the body functions normally before looking it at as a “female body”.
The second step is to involve men and boys in discussions related to the menstrual cycle so that they can be sensitized about the issues related to menstruation. The best way is to start with biology lessons in school, which need to be taken seriously rather than avoiding them. In my personal experience, there are a lot of men who are more open and understanding of the concept of menstrual cycle. But the lack of communication both from men and women is a result of societal and religious values, which keep this topic away from open discussion.
The third step is the understanding of the kind of sanitary napkins women will be comfortable with. The approach to the type of sanitary napkins used is based on a region’s accessibility, literacy and personal knowledge. There is a lack of understanding in this aspect, especially in India.
Everything in the world requires maintenance and cleanliness, whether it is a living or non-living object. Similarly, menstrual hygiene is a part of keeping the female body clean and healthy. With the onset of new diseases every year, it has become more imperative to maintain hygiene at its best. Menstrual hygiene is something that requires special treatment but needed to be taken as a natural part of the female body.