• The Feminist Times

My Battle with Menstrual Stigma



Period - A word that denotes a very natural biological process, where a girl or woman has

her monthly menstrual flow, which is when blood and tissue leave her body through her

vagina. While having periods every month is a very normal process but it is still viewed as a

taboo associated with superstitious beliefs or a topic which cannot be openly discussed in

many parts of India. Coming out of a whirlwind of many traditions, rituals, socio-cultural

restrictions, rules, there are a lot of restrictions that bind Indian women both physically as

well as mentally, and their consequences can last longer than we think.


My prolonged battle against period stigma:

Period rules and restrictions create nothing but shame and stigma, leading to limit the scope

of opportunities for a lot of young women, be it educational opportunities or else wise . This

shame and stigma created around menstruation is passed on from generations to

generations till date. This stigma ultimately creates a kind of struggle with our own bodies as

much as our basic human rights. I fought such a similar battle against menstruation stigma in

my childhood as well as my early teens. I remember when I had my first period at the age of

11 I was still a kid who had no idea about whatever was going on with her. I remember being

confused searching for answers when I was not being told or educated about anything in

proper details to me.


I was just told to follow all the rituals and rules without questioning them for half an entire

month whilst so many new things were happening with me, with my body, and everywhere

around me. The changes in my body were new and were confusing me with what was

happening with me. Along with all the confusion, also came life-wrecking unbearable cramps

in my lower belly and lingering body cramps that often refused to go away for nights and

prolonged days. And in such bodily pain, I had to spend almost 14 days to half a month in a

separate room other than my bedroom in my own house and was made to sleep on the floor.

I was also made to avoid eating some particular food which included avoiding eating some of

my favourite food items. I was not allowed to go to other rooms or touch any thing other than

my temporary bed on the floor and the utensils that I was provided food in. I was not allowed

to touch my belongings and was not allowed to wear certain clothes as well.

On menarches, period rituals and patriarchal restrictions that makes girls miss

opportunities:

In order to follow the ‘so-called rituals’, I was also not allowed to step out of my home or go

anywhere but spend half a month within four walls of the house as if I was totally deprived of

my freedom and liberty to do anything that I wanted. I also had to miss my school and skip

my classes for half a month. For a young kid like me that I was back then, first skipping

school came as an exciting news since missing school meant I did not have to do any

homework for days, but it did not take me long to realise the amount of opportunities and

importance of classes as well as education that I was missing on because of the isolation

that I was put into. I soon started to get fed up of the uncomfortable daily days on the cold

floor, doing nothing but laying down uncomfortably on floor in immense abdominal pain and


body ache, confusion, waiting to be free again and live a normal life again with my liberty

back to myself, where i can touch things other than the floor and my temporary bed on floor

and where I don’t have to feel isolated and be fearful of breaking any rule or anything.


All of this is disheartening enough? Raging enough? What is more disheartening is that I

have to follow some of the same rituals till date like not going to kitchen, sleeping in separate

room, in a separate temporary bed on the floor, not touching anything important.


Amusing enough? Or maybe not? Because all of this has happened with many of us, most of

us and it continues happening with many of us till date. So unfortunately, it might seem

somewhat normal to some people. It has been normalised in such a way in some

households that mostly if someone questions these rituals then they are often unheard and

education, healthy discussions about the topic of periods often misses its place in school

curriculums, household spaces among elder family members. Be it urban or rural places, the

generational stigmas knows no boundaries.


How is it impacting our health?

Such isolation, mental pressure and unscientific logic behind the period rituals often affect

physical health as well as mental health of young girls and women. I personally had to go

through the same isolation every month if I lived at home, due to the COVID-19 restrictions

as well as absence of offline classes, my stay at home has been prolonged than ever, which

means following the period rules of isolation every month without fail.

People in rural areas who still use clothes instead of sanitary napkins during their periods

can be infected with urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other problems for using clothes,

sand, etc. Every social grouping in the world has specific traditional cultural practices and

beliefs, some of which are harmful to a specific group, such as women and other minorities.

Harmful traditional practices are carried out till date in different countries of the world such as

Africa, where practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM); forced feeding of women;

early marriage; the various taboos or practices which prevent women from controlling their

own fertility; nutritional taboos and traditional birth practices; early pregnancy are shadowing

the overall development of women population living there.


Menarche and gender expectations are interrelated:

Women’s identities are constructed and connected to the social construction and

conceptions of motherhood and reproductive viability. An adolescent girl’s menarche (first

menstruation) is a ‘social marker’ or social acceptance of a girl’s entry into womanhood. The

subjective experience of menarche is not only important for understanding adolescents’ first-

hand viewpoint, but also important from a societal standpoint for understanding how

menarche is treated as an opportunity to reinforce gender expectations and roles.


How can we fight it together?

Menstrual practices and beliefs are often constructed from gender, religion and culture. It

reaffirms the need for equal human rights for women and men in society and in the family

spaces. Blind adherence to these superstitious practices and state inaction with regard to

these customs and traditions have made possible large-scale inequality against women. It

obliges state parties, calls for government initiatives to take action against the social causes

of gender inequality, menstrual hygiene and management; and it calls for the elimination of

laws, stereotypes, practices and prejudices that impair women's well-being. It calls for us as

a society to move forward from harmful traditions such as Chhaupadi where women and

young girls are made to leave their house temporarily and are made to live in a makeshift

dwelling known as a menstruation hut with full isolation and lack of hygiene, for the

duration of their period.

Access to education by itself is not enough to eliminate blind values held by society, for such

values are in most countries are deeply entrenched and passed on since generations after

generations. There should be awareness programmes in schools and societies that sheds

light on existing social discriminations, deep-rooted cultural and religious superstitions

among women, debunking the menstrual myths for people and young students, sheds light

on gender inequalities and on why is it high time to stop such rituals, stereotypes in

different areas of the country, both rural and urban. Gender sensitisation sessions and

workshops, creation of safe spaces, awareness around menstrual hygiene and

management, need for gender neutral washrooms for non-binary students, accessibility to

free period products such as tampons and pads for both female students and for other

people belonging to different minority genders who menstruate should be made available in

different workplaces and most importantly in higher primary schools so that the students

don’t have to drop out of school because of lack of sanitary napkins and other necessities

during their monthly periods. Targeted education and awareness is what we need to make

changes and balance between cultural and social practices during menstruation.


Literacy rate has grown leaps and bounds in India over the past couple of years, but

however a large population remains unaware and uneducated about menstrual hygiene and

awareness, propelled forward by a pandemic that had children and young students learning

more on their screens and less inside classrooms.

- Pallabi Dutta

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