While we are proud to progress towards a so-called ‘modern’ society, a faction of India is still struggling to separate virtues from menstruation. The hushed conversations are mostly kept in the dark, covered – like the packet of sanitary pads that the chemist hands over in a black bag. When a girl attains the age of adolescence, she undergoes one of the most crucial times of her lifetime – menarche; when she realises that five days in a month, her blood flows out of her body. There are around 6,71,848,300 women in India who make up 48.4% of the Indian populace. Unlike other bodily functions, menstruation has moral and religious values attached to it, which is one of the most predominant reasons behind it being a taboo in India. These taboos also determine how society interacts and perceives menstruation.
In a study about awareness of menstruation in low and middle-income countries, figures paint a sad picture. In Rajasthan, only 2.8% of girls were aware of menstruation before reaching menarche. Even if girls had some pre-knowledge, it was either inadequate or laden with misconceptions. Girls in five Indian states believed that menstruation was some kind of sin or curse. This does not leave much room to understand that menstruation is a bodily process and is not a psychological or moral issue.
Women often have myths about their body parts, which is one of the root problems of lack of awareness. In the study, it is mentioned how the majority of girls did not know the origin of period blood, which makes them highly susceptible to misconceptions. I remember how I asked my teacher in 8th grade whether period blood is impure thus gets discharged in order to purify the blood inside! Another study conducted in Bangalore talks about how almost 99% of the girls had heard of menstruation before reaching menarche. This shows a positive side of the same issue, however, it is not representative of the scenario of India.
In most cases, mother, sister, or an older woman educate the girls about menstruation. Sometimes, it could be the teachers as well. However, a problem with this method is the assumption that grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and teachers could pass on their myths to the younger girls. If your mother is embarrassed to talk to you about menstruation, you are most likely to feel embarrassed as well. Such notions prevent the girls from understanding the topic in detail and detaching shame from it.
One of the most prevalent practices till date – both in rural and urban India – is of handing over sanitary napkins in newspapers or black polythene bags. It’s almost an unspoken rule. It is so normal that neither the shopkeeper, the people around, or the person who has come to buy it, feels any discomfort with such a practice. If you try to carry a set of sanitary pads without a black bag, people stare at you as if you are carrying somebody’s severed head!
Whether such kind of misconceptions is a problem or not depends on who looks at the problem, but it is safe to say that the public discourse surrounding menstrual health has changed drastically, though we still have a long way to go. Some basic grassroots measure of bringing about tangible changes are: 1. Parents And Teachers Need To Be Made Aware The immediate people who can directly affect a girl’s perspective of menarche is her family and school. Therefore, teachers and parents could be trained and made aware, who can later disseminate proper knowledge. However, there are high chances that they can pass on their myths and misconceptions to their younger ones and continuing the vicious cycle. 2. Encourage Girls To Fight Taboos You really don’t need to get those sanitary napkins in a black bag or covered in newspapers. 3. Basic Facilities In School Infrastructure Can Help A lot of girls end up dropping from school due to menstruation which is a concern in a lot of public schools in the country. Even if such schools have toilets, they are either common for girls and boys or are not functional. It is sad to know that girls have to miss out on schooling because of something as basic and regular as their period. Therefore, better sanitation facilities can help tackle this problem to a great extent. Menstruation is one of the most normal phenomena and millions of women have to deal with issues because of that. If we all make some efforts and try to make it as less problematic as possible, public and private spaces can become inclusive and better for girls and women. Note: This was originally published here.