Menstrual Hygiene | Breaking the Cycle: Let us all be a little Undignified
Updated: May 26
Today, we’re going to talk about something ‘uncomfortable’. Something that concerns 3.9 billion of us and is still ‘uncomfortable’. Something that could potentially harm the mental & physical wellbeing of 3.9 billion population but is still ‘uncomfortable’. Yes, we’re going to talk about Menstruation and we, me & you, are going to talk about it because talking about it now will be our first step towards bringing a change in the post-COVID world where hygiene seems to be the only solution.
Menstrual Hygiene Day
Menstrual Hygiene Day is an annual awareness day on May 28. As a part of a series commemorating this month, we’ll start by talking about “Menstruation & the Society”.
In many different definitions across the internet, Menstrual Hygiene is defined as “…ensuring women and girls live in an environment that values and supports their ability to manage their menstruation with dignity.”
With Dignity. The fact that there was a need to include that phrase while explaining menstrual hygiene signals a problem. Why doesn’t a normal bodily function deserve respect? Why are menstruating girls considered impure?
Menstruation and Social Stigma
In many societies globally, menstruating women are not allowed to enter kitchens, touch drinking water, engage in any religious ceremonies, community activities and sometimes are forced to sleep outside homes. More than a third girls in South Asia miss school during their periods, 23% drop out. In a survey, ‘Fear of being teased during periods’ was the most popular reason for absenteeism. A deeply ingrained lack of acceptance of the normalcy of this bodily function in the society has led to the term being negatively perceived, usually associated with shame, fear and anxiety. These emotions among women are so strong that most women want to keep their periods a secret, which results in the lack of information about the topic and more so the spread of disinformation.
Close to 50% girls in India are unaware of the phenomena before their menarche, onsetting of menstruation. Imagine the horror of waking up one day or on a normal day at school you suddenly notice blood stains on your bottoms and you don’t understand what’s happening to your body. Won’t you be scared? And then you’re welcomed to the cult and made aware of the 100 more things now you cannot do because you are born a girl. It signifies you’re a woman now. What I still don’t understand is, while in some parts of the world, we’re throwing bar mitzvah parties when boys come of age, we’re here shaming girls and stripping them off basic dignity on becoming young women.
But there’s more to it, when we’re doing so, we’re preventing half the world’s population from reaching their full potential by excluding them from schools and opportunities. We’re lowering their menstrual hygiene standards and preventing women from talking about related issues which could potentially harm their physical and mental health. Such practices ostracize women to the extent that they have been taught to feel shameful about menstruation. On a higher level, women tend to internalize that they are inferior to men their biological weaknesses justify their subordinated position in the society. Our actions also trigger much more heinous issues like gender discrimination, child marriage, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.
Is the picture too grim? Are we too late to do anything about the situation?
Not really. The Government of India recognized Menstrual Hygiene as an issue recently in 2011 and so there still a lot that needs to be done. We can aim to cure this situation but what’s difficult to cure are the stigmas, the taboos and the mindset.
Where we can start and what we can do today is start talking about it. Most interventions to solve menstrual issues have targeted women. However, not women, men have the most important role to play right now because they are equally influencing women’s experiences of menstruation. India has been a patriarchal-first society. Unequal power relations have resulted in women’s voices not being heard in decision making with societies. Although roles are starting to neutralize, some societies remain largely patriarchal where men are responsible for taking household decisions regarding the budget, building toilets. And if men are not aware and sensitized towards menstrual hygiene, it becomes a lot more difficult to make the situation any better.
As a first step, we can start talking about menstruation just like we would about any other body function. We need to talk about it so openly and frequently that we finally establish the normalcy of menstruation. Not just women, men, too, should be comfortable talking about it. This is least we can do to ensure women are not uncomfortable talking about a body process with a fellow co-habitant of the globe.
Applications open: If you want to work on menstrual hygiene and health, apply for our Summer Program
Author: Raunika is a commerce graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce. She has worked in investment banking and consulting verticals in the last two years and is equally passionate about changing the world. With a passion for social change, she firmly believes that each of our actions can potentially lead to a large scale social impact. You can read her blog here