Menstrual Taboo: Breaking Down the Stigma - A Cultural Perspective

Breaking Down Menstrual Taboo
Team ujaas

Menstruation is by far the most natural biological process of a woman’s life. When it comes to our culture, society continues to categorise it as impure and unholy. It is quite baffling being a girl as on one hand it needs to be celebrated, but on the other hand it is deemed an embarrassment.

Menstrual Taboos in India

The period-shame struggle is real. A girl will not be able to ask her mother about menstruation when her father or brother is in the same room. In the same Indian culture, when a man buys a packet of cigarettes, it is purchased without any hesitation.

Period taboo is quite widespread. Shopkeepers use black polythene bags and newspapers to wrap and sell sanitary pads.

Menstrual taboos are so widespread in India that girls are not able to talk about severe infections about menstruation, with the result being that they suffer alone. Such is period taboo in India.

Understanding the ground level reality in Indian Women, Ujaas, a menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative of Aditya Birla Education Trust (ABET), was founded with the core objective of putting an end to period taboo.

Why Is Menstruation a Taboo in India?

Discrimination against women who menstruate is extremely widespread in India, where periods have been taboo for a long time. What’s worse, menstruating women are considered “dirty” and “impure.”

They are frequently excluded from all social as well as religious events, not allowed entry into shrines and temples, and kept out of the kitchen.

Given the fact that there is a clear lack of conversation about periods, one study indicated that 71% of Indian adolescent girls are completely unaware of menstruation until they experience a real period for the first time . Activists are of the opinion that Indian parents do not thoroughly prepare their daughters for something that they clearly know is bound to happen. And this lack of preparation causes much avoidable anxiety, fear, and worries.

Periods in India - The Real Problem

The difficulty and hardship of obtaining a sanitary pad are other serious problems. Only after several months of relentless campaigning by activists did the Government of India scrap a 12% tax on all sanitary products.

Campaigners had successfully argued that menstrual hygiene products were surely not luxury items, and menstruation was not a choice that a woman or adolescent girl could simply opt out of.

That said, offering an exemption from tax is just a small step towards an extremely long journey in making menstrual hygiene an accessible reality for all women in the country.

Menstrual Taboo & The Suffering of India’s Girls

Millions of families throughout India do not have the monetary resources to purchase menstrual hygiene products . Even if the daughter of a daily-wage labourer needs a pad, she would feel too guilty to even ask her family for the money to purchase one. This is because it is a toss-up between purchasing food or sanitary napkins.

Approximately 23 million girls drop out of school every year after they begin menstruating, according to a 2014 study. Activists are of the opinion that the primary reasons are a lack of clean toilets in schools and a lack of access to sanitary products.

Moreover, there is fear of getting stained, and adolescent girls worry about being subject to mockery by their classmates.

The study also found that a significant number of women considered periods dirty, which is the result of period myths in India. This explains why menstruating women are frequently ostracised from both cultural and social activities and are eventually forced to put up with all types of restrictions.

According to activists, this is the time everyone realises that menstruation is merely a biological process, and menstrual myths must be busted. It is vital to normalise menstruation and destroy menstrual myths around this natural, biological process.

Statistics About Periods in India

According to the findings of one study, only 36% of the country’s 355 million menstruating women make use of sanitary pads. What’s worse, the rest of the women use leaves, old rags, husks, ash, soil, and mud (and several other health-threatening materials) to manage their menstrual flow.

Menstrual health experts opine that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened things further for India’s menstruating women. During the lockdown, the production and supply of menstrual hygiene products were severely affected.

As can be seen, the statistics paint a grim picture of periods in India

This is the reason Ujaas is conducting awareness campaigns in schools in rural India as well as distributing sanitary napkins free of any cost to combat period poverty. Ujaas has completed its 1st year of anniversary and touched 120030+ lives, distributed 2473828+ sanitary pads and conducted 4387+ awareness sessions since the beginning.

Combatting Period Myths in India

From a young age, girls in India begin to live with fear and pain, and rarely does one see a girl seek appropriate help when she experiences physical and mental anguish due to menstruation.

That said, with the surging popularity of social media in recent years, women have started sharing their stories regarding menstruation, too.

However, this freedom is frequently questioned and those who share their heart-wrenching stories are often threatened with bans, while those who troll, indulge in moral policing, or shame women go completely scot-free.

One must realise that this is not the time to silence them with shame but shield them from pain by spreading knowledge and freedom.

Social media is an extremely potent tool, and it must be used to spread awareness and positivity.

The Bottomline

Several celebrities have spoken against menstrual taboos and stigma and opened up their own, personal experience to shed any shame. The film, Padman, was truly an eye-opener for everyone regarding menstrual hygiene, and this should also pave the way for healthy discussions, where menstruation becomes free of taboos and myths, and as a sign of weakness. Men should also help in dispelling menstrual myths by discussing matters of menstrual hygiene with their wives, daughters, and sisters. The revolutions must usher in and should change the present scenario, which has dominated women for ages.