Period Shaming and Its Impact on Menstrual Hygiene Awareness: A Call for Action

Menstrual hygiene is a fundamental human right. Then why is it that even today, there are approximately 500 million women who do not have access to the necessary means to manage their menstrual health comfortably?

Even in the 21st century, we battle against period stigma, a normal and healthy biological process. We face discrimination based on age-old cultural norms and societal taboos. Consequently, menstrual health remains a highly under-addressed topic.

How many times have girls been forced to stay away from religious practices or family functions if they were on their period? Why is it that a menstruating individual is considered unclean? Such discriminatory actions instill shame in young girls.

Period shaming is an outrageously perpetuated attitude. Isn't it funny how society shames a woman for having a healthy reproductive system? Looks like we have an endless list of reasons to put a girl to shame, no matter how illogical they sound! It is high time we invest in menstrual hygiene initiative drives.

How do period stigma and shame manifest themselves?

As a young girl, have you ever been asked not to be too loud while discussing periods? Whispering about your bodily changes as if it's meant to be a secret. And slowly, the secret turned into shame. Age-old period stigma teaches women to be embarrassed about their health.

Have your friends ever asked, 'Get your monthly visitor yet?' You can find a hundred names to address menstruation, but not the simple term 'period.' Statements like 'it is that time of the month' when women express annoyance in a conversation have become routine. Such sexist and insensitive comments are part of period stigma.

It is time to bring about change!

We all agree that for ages, menstruation has been a taboo in India and other places as well. Even discussions about menstrual health are a calm conversation. But it is now time to speak up! Only by being vocal can we encourage necessary menstrual hygiene initiative programs.

  • Let's put an end to demonising a healthy biological process

From time immemorial, society deemed the period as something unclean and impure. This is due to a need for more information and communication. Fear of contamination is also prevalent in low-resource environments. However, today, we have the means to break such deep-rooted stigma.

  • Period is natural

Why is it that people find it so uncomfortable even to utter the word 'period'? It's 2023, yet only 38% of adults speak candidly. Period shame prevents open discussions about the topic. As a result, 1 in 3 young menstruators are confused, scared, and embarrassed for their first period.

  • Increase accessibility to menstrual resources.

Having access to tampons and pads is still a dream for many. So many girls still use cloth, even newspapers, during their period. Such practices lead to infections and unwanted complications. And people know the reason why. The cost of menstrual health products is not something everyone can afford.

However, change is taking place slowly and steadily. 

Period shaming has more profound consequences

It feels unfair when people are made to feel wrong about natural bodily processes. Girls learn to feel ashamed for menstruating. Period shame makes one lose their confidence by breeding low self-esteem.

  • Poor mental health

Several women experience painful periods. Bloating and other bodily changes in 24 hours and mood fluctuations are a given. Battling both physical and mental exhaustion is something women prepare themselves for every cycle.

On top of that, society treats them as outcasts during their period. Not letting them enter the kitchen, temple, etc., breeds a culture of shame. Society expects a woman to conform to such period stigma and suffer in silence. Hence it has a direct connection with their poor mental health as well.

  • Impact on physical health

When it comes to discussion concerning periods, societal double standards become crystal clear. In a society where we value a woman's fertility so dearly, we don't like talking about severe reproductive health concerns. Treating periods as some disease is frustrating. The lack of menstrual health initiative programs makes it difficult to treat actual diseases like endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, vaginal infections, etc.

  • Gender inequality

The government invested a handsome amount in girls' education. There are schemes for women's empowerment and protection. But did you know that even today, when young girls hit puberty and start menstruating, they stop going to school? Lack of accessible hygiene products is the primary contributor. Even if they do not drop out, in India, adolescent girls miss school because of insufficient menstrual hygiene support.

Menstrual health initiatives to fight period shaming

In recent years, NGOs and the government have seen several developments to promote menstrual health and hygiene. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare focuses on the following objectives -

  • Promote awareness regarding periods and menstrual hygiene among young adolescents
  • Promote better accessibility to sanitary products
  • Ensure secure disposal of sanitary napkins or tampons after usage

The scheme came into effect initially in 2011. The target was 107 districts in 17 states (especially the rural areas). However, from 2014, there has been an active fund flow under the National Health Mission.

To Wrap Up

Period shaming harms women more than what meets the eye. Whether it is period poverty or societal attitudes, menstruating females are denied fundamental rights. We can blame such unfortunate scenarios on the knowledge gap. However, such stigma is way more normalised. On the contrary, open discussion and care about periods require normalcy.

It is time to break the stigma and stop discrimination. Societal hypocrisy should no longer be entertained. Let's sum up what we can normalise periods-

  • Call it for what it is; there is no shame in saying 'Period.'
  • Stand up when someone makes a sexist joke about the period
  • Advocate for period-friendly workplace policies
  • Stand up against period stigma and period shame

As responsible members of society, we must fight against what is wrong. Let us do our bit in this movement by being vocal. Actions have consequences. So, choose wisely what change you would want to bring about!