Menstrual Talk in India — A Taboo?

While we are proud to be progressing towards a ‘modern’ society, a faction of India is still struggling to separate virtues with menstruation. The conversations are mostly kept in the dark, covered — like the packet of sanitary pads that the chemist hands over in a black cover.

When a girl is in the ages 11 and 15, she goes through what could be called one of the most crucial times of her lifetime — menarche. This is when she realises that her body leaks blood, 5 days in a month. It affects her in a number of ways, hence making it a very sensitive period in her life. There are around 6,71,848,300 women in India. That makes up 48.4% of the Indian populace.

Unlike other bodily functions, menstruation has moral and religious values attached to it, which is one the most predominant reasons behind it being a taboo in India. These taboos also determine how the society around interacts with the process. With this article, we try and understand some reasons and conceptions about menstruation in India.

Awareness about Menstruation:

In a study 1about awareness of menstruation in low and middle-income countries, figures paint a sad picture. In Rajasthan, only 2.8% girls were aware about menstruation before reaching menarche. These figures reflect both in urban and rural parts of the country. Even if girls have had knowledge, it was either inadequate or had misconceptions with it which did not help as much. Girls in five Indian states believed that menstruation was some kind of sin or curse. This does not leave much room to understand that menstruation is a bodily process and is not a psychological or moral issue.

Do We Know Our Bodies?

This might seem weird, but is a reality in the 21 st-century India. We do not know our bodies! Women often have myths about their body parts, which is one of the root problems of lack of awareness. In the study 1it is mentioned how majority of girls did not know the origin of period blood, which makes them highly susceptible to misconceptions. I am not surprised when I think about how I asked my teacher in 8 thgrade if period blood is the impure blood that comes out of the body, so that the blood in the body is then purified. Duh!

Another study 2done in Bangalore talks about how almost 99% girls had heard of menstruation before reaching menarche. This shows a positive side of the same issue, however, it is not representative of the scenario of urban India.

Where Do We Get the Information?

In most cases, mothers, sisters, or an older woman talks to girls about menstruation. A lot of times it’s the teachers as well. However, a problem with this is the assumption that grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and teachers could pass on their myths to the younger girls.

If your mother is embarrassed to talk to you about menstruation, you are most likely to feel embarrassed as well; and not just in front of her but in front of people as well. Such notions prevent the girls from understanding the topic in detail and detaching shame from it.

The Black Bag!

One of the most prevalent practices even today — in rural and urban India — is of handing over sanitary napkins in newspapers or black polythene bags. It’s almost an unspoken rule. It is so normal that neither the shopkeeper, the people around, or the person who has come to buy it, feel any discomfort with such a practice. If you try to carry a packet without a black bag, people stare at you as if you are carrying somebody’s head in your hands. (I have done that and gotten the stares as well. It’s fun tbh!)

Photograph by: Tanisha Venkani

Is this a problem? What can we do?

Whether such kind of misconceptions is a problem or not depends on who looks at the problem; but it is safe to say that the public discourse around menstrual health has changed drastically (positively). Although we have a long way to go.

Doesn’t matter if you are a girl or a boy, mother or father, brother or sister, there is something you can do to start shifting the narrative from a nonchalant one to a constructive one.

The immediate people who can directly affect a girl’s perspective of menarche is her family and school. Therefore, teachers and parents could be trained and made aware, who can later talk to the girls and give them proper knowledge. There are high chances that they can actually pass their myths and misconceptions to their younger ones and this can go on and on.

You really don’t need to get those sanitary napkins in a black bag or covered in newspapers. Seriously, nobody will die looking at that packet.

A lot of girls have to miss school because of menstruation which is a concern in a lot of public schools in the country. Even if schools have toilets, they are either common for girls and boys, or are not functional. It is sad to know that girls have to miss out on schooling because of something as basic and regular as their period. Therefore, better sanitation facilities can help tackle this problem to a great extent.

Menstruation is one of the most normal things and millions of women in India have to deal with issues because of that. If we all make some efforts and try to make it as less problematic as possible, public and private spaces can become inclusive and better for girls and women.

Sources:

1 — https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12978-017-0293-6

2 — https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/17a3/cc5513d1c61d3566a5ee6b30adde244ec780.pdf

Originally published at http://tanishavenkani.wordpress.com on February 13, 2020.

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