Women have been subjected to stigmas, stereotypes and gender- based discrimination for the past many ages. The reproductive rights of women are shattered because of the disgrace and humiliation that patriarchy has imposed on women’s bodies. An important aspect of the female reproductive system is menstruation but the shame attached to it has made women think of it as a problem. The stigma around menstruation is multifaceted, it is perceived as an ‘impure problem’ through different practices in families, peer groups and social and religious institutions. Silence around the topic, worsens the situation, conversations regarding menstruation are always shrouded in secrecy or are often only whispered of.
In families, most parents do not discuss the facts about menstruation or any related topic to it with their children. Mothers often are unable to explain to young kids about human reproduction, most of them end up explaining things which are covered with myths and that too is only discussed with girls; boys are never involved in any such conversations. There are families which even today treat menstruating women as untouchables.
In schools and colleges, sex education classes are conducted separately for boys and girls. This practice reaffirms the belief that such topics should not be discussed openly and men need not be involved. Many girls drop out of schools once they hit puberty because of lack of sanitation facilities in school premises. Our education system has failed to imbibe a scientific outlook among students and as a result women are made to feel ashamed of their bodies.
Social and religious places are not accommodating of menstruating women, they are considered impure and not allowed to participate in social and religious functions. Patriarchy has been able to suppress women’s role in society and religion using menstruation as an excuse. There are customs, stories, folklores that are used to strengthen the popular belief that menstruation is impure and hence menstruating women have no right to pray. Religious places put up signboards restricting entry for menstruating women that impose restrictions on women’s freedom to pray.
Our social media also indicates the patriarchal belief that menstruation is something that women should be feeling guilty of. The advertisements of sanitary products that conveniently try to tell us that we can ‘hide the so-called discomfort we face during menstruation if we use their product’ fail to understand that menstruation is not a disease, we need not hide it or feel guilty about it. I have never understood why the fluid in the popular sanitary products advertisement is blue and not red. We all know that women bleed, and we bleed for the human race to live, it is high time that the media and all others adapt to this fact.
I would not blame our parent’s generation for believing and following these kinds of stigmas as, most of them probably never had the platform to talk about such issues. They were brought up in an environment where asking questions was not welcome, even today it is not a very welcoming environment for those who ask questions against strong beliefs and try to change things. But today we have access to various resources, there are books being written on growing up, there are organizations working on the issues of adolescence education, there are videos, comics, books, blogs and many other means which can help us understand and talk about menstruation. Let’s start talking about it, most importantly to the young minds who are growing up and are curious to know about their bodies.
Let us not raise another generation with misinformation and negligence, they have the right to know facts about their body and only when facts will be taught will they be able to fight the myths and stigma.
Menstrupedia Comic is the most fun and friendly way to teach young girls and boys about Menstruation. Gift a copy to a little one you know and end this cycle of shame around periods.
Author: Prachi Prabhu
Prachi has done her Masters in Social Work and is associated with SAHAS, an NGO working to promote gender sensitization and adolescence education in Goa. She manages a Facebook group called “Speak against Menstrual Exclusion” which aims to do away with stigmas attached to menstruation. Her interests include reading, writing and travelling.
Editor: Anam Mittra
Illustration by Aditi Gupta.