WHAT IS MENSTRUATION?

The onset of menstruation (periods) is a natural physiological change in girls’ life. It is defined as the beginning of uterine bleeding. The inner lining of the uterus is controlled by the hormones produced by the glands located in the brain. However, girls do not mature physically at this stage. Various aspects such as physiological, pathological, psychological, social, and emotional linked with menstruation have been found to be associated with overall wellbeing of women; hence it is an important health subject concerning morbidity and mortality of female population. However, despite being a manifestation of good reproductive health, culture-bound values such as taboo and gender norms overrule the importance of menstruation. First menstruation (known as menarche) brings traumatic and negative experience for young girls in most parts of India in the absence of mother’s or family care and support. Besides, as the physiological process of menstruation is still regarded as an unclean state, such perceptions segregate girls from the activities of normal life, such as bathing, swimming and exercise at home.

On average, the normal menstrual pattern is such that age of menarche is between 8-17 years, average length of menstrual cycle 21-35 days, normal length of flow 2-7 days and amount of flow  counted approx. 80mL. The most prevalent menstrual disorders among adolescents are excessive uterine bleeding, dysmenorrhea (pain) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Dysmenorrhea, usually of the primary type, is a common symptom and a common cause of school absenteeism among adolescents.

RELIGIOUS-CULTURAL ORIGIN OF MENSTRUAL TABOO:

In 2016, the International Women’s Health Coalition published a report claiming that women around the world use more than 5,000 euphemisms for their periods the research conducted upon 90,000 responses spanning 190 different countries. In India, Some popular euphemism such as ‘aunt flow’, ‘shark week’ or ‘chum’ are used in urban culture whereas in rural India; ‘Tem-ana’, ‘Kapda’, and ‘MC’ are used frequently. Menstruators do not feel comfortable, while society feels hostile, to communicate about periods. So euphemism helps them to express their everyday menstrual discourse. A euphemism is a safe word or expression used in place of one that may be found hostile or unpleasant. Due to several religious, cultural originated myths menstruation has perceived as a taboo topic to discuss in public as well as private space and euphemism help women to discuss it in hush-hush. There are various mythic stories prevalent in different religious texts, for instance, In Hinduism, one-rig Vedic Story of Lord Indra and Demon Vritra battles illustrates that Lord Indra was cursed for slaying a demon Vritra, thus Indra requests women to accept quarter part of his curse. Women accept it in the form of menstruation. It is believed that In Abrahamic religious text prevailing myths ascertain (by some) that women are cursed to bleed recurrently every month replicating the curse of Eve (first woman) for eating the forbidden fruit. In anthropology studies, Cultural myths states that men has created taboos because they had coincided menses with the waxing and waning of moon thinking that women possess some natural (or magical)power due to which she bleeds every month without any injury or hurt. Sigmund Freud, popular psychologist, assumed the root of menstrual taboo as a blood-phobia of humans since ancient times. However, after medical evolvement and research on menstruation explicated as the fact considering it an important aspect of women’s reproductive health and fertility. But the notion of taboo could not be detached from it. Public hiding of period is a major burden that women go through every month in the absence of gender-friendly public infrastructure. Even, buying a sanitary product becomes a taboo that it is wrapped in black packets by shop-keepers to avoid anybody’s sight.

MENSTRUATION POVERTY:

The concept of “menstrual poverty,” is defined as the combination of multiple practical, material and psychosocial deprivations experienced by menstruating girls and women in resource-poor settings. Menstrual myths, taboo and its mystified version reflects a deep rooted misogyny and gender-bias along with the system of patriarchy prohibits girls to attain hygienic and dignified periods. There are various restrictions imposed on young girls to adult girls during their period. Discussion on period is only done by  using different euphemism, Self-imposed withdrawal is symptoms common among young girls from performing daily activities like playing, going to school, doing home chores and enforce them to stay in seclusion (in some places at menstrual hut). Studies on menstrual poverty consider this as a contextual formation of menstrual poverty. Menstrual poverty can be described encompassing three major aspects: such as; contextual base, material resources and psycho-social impact.

Menstrual activism of contemporary era has been circumscribed around providing sanitary products to needful menstruators which is praise-worthy but not sufficient. In order to bring social justice, I believe that contextual formation of menstruation should be discussed and challenged globally then only menstrual stigma can be uprooted. 

HOW CAN WE FIX IT?

Menstrual practices are influenced by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions for women as well as adolescent girls. However, coupled with it, the lack of access to menstrual hygiene, which includes sanitary napkins, toilets In schools/household, and availability of water, privacy and safe disposal, could restrict school attendance, social mobility and contribute to local infections during this period. Therefore, creating awareness and increasing access to the requisite sanitary infrastructure related to menstrual hygiene is important. However, there are certain important pre-requisites that can bring menstrual integrity in order to tackle menstrual poverty: 

  • Puberty Education: girl must be taught about it that it is normal.
  • Education of Menstrual hygiene management at school and community  level
  • Family awareness programs to discuss Menstruation in communities. 
  • Challenge gender-discriminatory environments
  • Girls should see it as power and not something to look down upon. 
  • Government measure to ensure the safer space for women
  • Boys inclusion is significant
  • Demystify the periods stigma 
  • Talk about comfort and promote reusable-washable cloth
  • Regular access to eco-friendly sanitary product 
  • More academic writings and intervention research is required
  • Challenge restrictions, social norms and expectations.
  • Rigorous advocacy to fight menstrual stigma.
  • Gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting

Written By: 

Jyoti Pali, 

UGC- Senior Research Fellow, Menstrual Researcher and PhD Scholar at Department of Social Work, Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer

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