Silence Around Menstruation And Related Taboos Still Haunt Most Women In Rural Assam

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

By Juthika Baruah

Guwahati: They are not allowed to touch a cow while they menstruate, lest it becomes infertile. Or look into a mirror. Or even enter the kitchen, or touch a plant while on their period. If they take a bath, they are told they will become infertile. Such beliefs and myths are rife among women in rural Assam, especially in remote villages.

“We don’t know about hygiene, we were only taught about the myths of menstruation since childhood,” said Minu Das (57), currently living in the relief camp set up in Madarpur ME school in Chirang district. “We were told by our elders that it is not good to communicate with others during menstruation. We were not even allowed to go to school.”

“What we have learnt, we have taught our daughters. We are not educated enough and believe what our elders told us,” Das added.

Menstrual hygiene among women in rural Assam
Image only for representation. Via Flickr

Girls are not allowed to go to their school or college during their periods in Panbari village. It’s such a hush-hush topic that they cannot even mention their periods to anyone. They believe menstruating women are impure, and therefore, they cannot enter the kitchen. They live in a separate room outside the house during periods and can’t go to a temple or attend any religious function.

Though menstrual hygiene is an integral part of the Swachh Bharat Mission Guidelines and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) framework, rural women in Assam have little access to information and safe menstrual hygiene practices. Few have not even heard of sanitary napkins and if they have, cannot afford it. Rampant use of cloth has created a health issue among these women.

The situation is particularly bad in the flood relief camps, which are set up every year in the flood-prone state. “In these camps, girls who are menstruating don’t even step out of their rooms and have to stay by a corner and not talk to others,” informed Archana Borthakur, founder of Priyobondhu, an NGO dealing with social issues.

There are the occasional voices questioning the taboos, Borthakur highlighted. She mentioned some of the questions the girls had asked her like “Why are we not allowed inside the kitchen during our period?”, “Why are taboos imposed on us in the name of religious traditions?”,“Why are we scared to mention it to anyone?”, and so on.

Talking to 101Reporters, 19-year-old Nafisa (name changed) from Panbari said most girls in their villages have to live with such taboos. “It becomes very tough for us during those days as we cannot go anywhere and cannot communicate with anyone. We don’t know why we can’t even touch anything. We are now living in relief camps as our house has been destroyed in floods and it’s very shameful for us when everyone comes to know when we are menstruating as we are compelled to sit in a corner,” said Nafisa.

Another girl, Debanti, 23 from Panbari said they have to use pieces of cloth and as they are living in relief camps, they don’t have enough cloth to use, and they can’t afford to buy sanitary napkins.

Borthakur revealed that womenfolk from these strata of society are unaware of the life-threatening consequences of unhygienic menstrual practices. She said they don’t know poor menstrual hygiene can cause fungal infections, reproductive tract infection and urinary tract infection, which can lead to cervical cancer. She said most women go through their periods very secretively and are never mindful about the need for hygiene.

About the author: Juthika is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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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.

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