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Why Are Menstruation Taboos Still With Us

Apr 6, 2023
Archana Jha, MS
Core Spirit member since Jan 17, 2023
Reading time 6 min.

Although our world has made progress, menstruation is still a taboo subject around the world that includes the idea that women are impure, dirty or sinful while they’re menstruating.

In reality, taboos and false beliefs create an environment where women and girls are deprived of a fundamental right: the right to their hygiene and health.
Has anyone ever considered the impact of menstrual taboos on the mobility, health, education and self-esteem of women and adolescent girls?.
Probably not, in fact the period taboo is a sexist stereotype that affects almost all girls and women around the world. Menstruating girls and women are prevented from normal duties and tasks, including prayer and visiting temples, drinking from public water sources, eating certain foods, entering the kitchen and touching certain objects and people.

Not only this, some women are discouraged from touching or washing their genitals during their periods to eliminate the possibility that they might contaminate the water of a communal bathing area.

It all comes from a superstition of impurity, with the logic that if women touch things it will pass on that impurity and provide bad-luck or illness. Women are barred from consuming meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables through the fear that their menstruation will ruin the produce.

Despite tireless efforts and endless talk, society still oscillates between shaming and hiding menstruation. Rarely are young girls taught to take pride in their menstrual cycles. They hide, whisper, embarrassed and shy away, which somewhere oppresses them.

According to The Hindu, 71% of young girls learn about periods whilst getting their first one, which can only make the experience even more traumatic.
The lack of awareness towards periods and the superstition that menstruation makes you dirty means 60% of young girls miss a week of school every month.

To avoid being teased or humiliated, many girls stay home from work or school. Girls who stay home four days out of every month for their period miss over a month of school each year. This puts girls who are already less likely to have education opportunities further behind. It is stated, These restrictions on girls and women affect their quality of life for up to 12 weeks throughout each year and around 23 million girls drop out of school completely when they begin menstruation in India.

Why is there stigma around menstruation still persist in India?,

There are over 355 million menstruating women and girls in India, 4 but millions of women across the country still face significant barriers to a comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual hygiene management (MHM).

The main reasons for this taboo still being relevant in the Indian society are the high rate of illiteracy especially in girls, poverty and lack of awareness about menstrual health and hygiene.

These deeply entrenched social norms about menstruation restrict girls’ freedom and affect their health.

There are several governments and non-government programmes that have promoted menstrual hygiene through health awareness schemes and free or subsidized distribution of sanitary pads.

However, their quality varies greatly.

Apart from this, girls lack access to disposal facilities.

This leads to using a hygienic/safe product in an unhygienic manner, as women often extend its use beyond the recommended time (sometimes using a single pad for a whole day).

Most of the provincial Indian women are highly prone to infection, sometimes death, numbness and embarrassment associated with their menstrual cycle as they have no knowledge about menstrual health.

This places the girl at increased risk for infection and has critical health implications.

Eight of ten Indian girls are not allowed to enter religious shrines when they are on their period; six of ten girls said they are not allowed to touch food in the kitchen, and 3 of 10 are asked to sleep in a separate room.

That menstruation taboos still have firm roots in Indian society was revealed in a study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

Furthermore, a young girl’s first menstruation can lead to a number of human rights violations, including child marriage, sexual violence, unintended teenage pregnancy, and the disruption or end of their education.

Period poverty and lack of knowledge can make women disease prone,

Strong stigmas around periods may be affecting everything from gender inequality and economic disparity to the prevalence of serious diseases like cervical cancer.

With a lack of adequate washing facilities and hygiene products, especially in rural areas, more than 77% of “women in India use an old cloth,” and 88% will use newspaper, dried leaves and husk sand to aid absorption. Lack of menstrual hygiene can result in various infections and even infertility. Reproductive infections also increase susceptibility to cervical cancer. The World Health Organization attributes “27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths” to Indian women, which is close to “twice the global average.”

The worst statistic is 80% of women still use home-made pads that are dangerous and can lead to an array of diseases. A disease caused by an unnecessary social taboo.

According to one study, only 36% of India's 355 million menstruating females use sanitary napkins, while the rest use old rags, husk, ash, leaves, mud and soil and such other life-threatening materials to manage their flow.

Additionally, sanitary hygiene products are often inaccessible or too costly, particularly for those living in poverty and crisis situations As States’ policies rarely address these issues. Vulnerable women can be forced to use improvised, unhygienic materials that may cause leaking and infection, putting their health at serious risk.

Tampons, disposable and reusable pads, menstrual cups, and absorbent underwear, there are many products available in the market that allow girls to manage their periods. But many of these products either are not available or are too expensive for girls to use.

‘The menstrual taboo is essentially a kind of flawed cultural logic, where we are all asked to participate in a falsehood: the lie that there is something wrong with menstruation, that it is inherently unclean, weird and unnatural, when the opposite is true.’

What reality says,

This is an extremely common misconception that period blood is dirty or impure. However, what most people fail to understand is that the menstrual cycle is part of a woman’s reproductive system that prepares her body for a (possible) pregnancy.

Monthly bleeding is a natural and biological process that represents the origin of all life and can therefore be an expression of femininity. In reality, menstrual blood is the same as any other body fluid and bathing regularly prevents bacterial infections.

The clumping and color of period blood have their scientific causes too. Women shed partly blood and partly tissue from the inside of the uterus. In addition, the color may range from light red to dark brown. The change in color from standard red occurs due to the reaction of blood with oxygen (it gets time to oxidize). Dark brown or blackish color is usually associated with the beginning or end of your periods.

The challenge, of addressing the socio-cultural taboos and beliefs in menstruation, is further compounded by the low girls’ knowledge levels and understandings of puberty, menstruation, and reproductive health. Thus, there is the need to follow a strategic approach in combating these issues.
Today menstruation in going beyond mere indication to generations worth of oppression, pain, guilt, and shame, seeks to stand forth and demand a way forward.

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