A few months back, nearly 70 female students at an institute in Gujarat’s Bhuj were allegedly forced to remove their undergarments just to prove that they are not menstruating. This highly condemnable and shameful act took place in an era where we talk about women empowerment and smashing of patriarchy.
Menstruation, or popularly known as “periods”, is a phenomenon known to girls. However, it has always been surrounded by taboos and myths, especially in India until date, that exclude women from many aspects of socio-cultural life. Such taboos not only affect girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle but most importantly, health. In simple words, periods still remain an “embarrassing” subject to broach.
Periods have long been associated with dirt, disgust, fear and shame. Women who menstruate have long been taught to keep silent about their periods. Young girls are taught from a young age that they have to manage it privately and discreetly. This shame not only affects how they feel about menstruation but how they feel about their bodies. Menorrhagia, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis and PCODs are some of the issues related to menstruation, but due to societal stigmatization, many women hesitate in seeking medical help. Majority of them don’t even know that these issues need medical treatment because they are always asked to keep shut and bear both physical and mental pain silently.
This is the time when a woman bleeds the most like a natural process, and it becomes exhausting for her to dismissively being told that “You are PMSing, or suffering from ‘that time of the month”. In Indian households including the literate ones, women are constantly reminded of the old-age traditions where “you are not allowed to touch anything holy, visit temples, cook or touch pickle.” The reason being that menstruating women are “unhygienic or unclean”. In Surinam, menstrual blood is believed to be dangerous, and a malevolent person can do harm to a menstruating woman or girl by using black magic (“wisi”).
The taboo is so ingrained that women often have the “walk of shame” while carrying their sanitary pads wrapped in black plastic bags in their hands. The misconception infiltration is so high that menstruation has been considered the best-kept secret of women.
I still remember the day when my school projected a documentary on periods and only girls were invited to watch it. That was the day when we were indirectly taught that menstrual periods are something that should be not be known to men.
It’s high time that we normalize menstruation as just a healthy and positive part of the female life cycle. Menstrual periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Just like digestion, blood circulation and respiration are considered as natural and biological processes, both men and women should work towards making menstruation an important topic to talk about openly. This is the only way to combat its silence and break the stigma. Spread period positivity!