As a person who was born and raised in India, conversations about menstruation have always been hushed, and a sanitary napkin is stuffed into a multi-layered package by the chemist – so that no one knows that a teenage girl is menstruating.
Over time, I’ve realised that this silence pertaining to menstruation is found in most parts of the world. It’s something that we talk about only in the company of those who menstruate. We don’t bring it up in front of males or in a public place. And god forbid someone sees us holding a pad or a tampon. When this is the kind of environment that we are bred in, we come to believe that periods are something to be ashamed of.
The first batch of sanitary pads went on sale in the year 1986. However, this new discovery was not met with enthusiasm because women couldn’t imagine letting people (even a shopkeeper) know that they menstruate.
The roots from the problematic notion of an ‘ideal woman’ which is ubiquitous. The ideal woman is supposed to be ‘clean and pure’ – and bleeding due to a biological process is something that tarnishes this image. While the concept of a menstruating female being ‘impure’ makes periods a shameful ordeal, it also adds fuel to the patriarchal idea of an ideal woman.
As we stray away from conservatism, we are learning that there is nothing ‘shameful’ about menstruation. However, this widespread belief of periods being shameful has contributed immensely to menstrual hygiene becoming a humanitarian crisis. In 2014, the United Nations declared that menstrual hygiene as a public health issue.
- According to WSSCC (Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council), only 12 per cent of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins.
- Menstruating women make up for about 30% of the population. Every year, nearly 23 million girls drop out of school due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities.
- In many parts of India, women are made to live in “menstruation huts” which puts them at the risk of catching infections and also being attacked by wild animals.
The asinine perception of periods being disgusting makes us shove an important issue under the carpet. However, we need to realise that living in silence has cost many people their health, as well as their lives. It is important to realise that menstruation is nothing but a biological process. It is something that many people go through and we don’t have to be ashamed because we bleed through our vagina for a couple of days in a month.
We need to steer more conversations towards menstruation, spread awareness, and quash myths and taboos to make this world a better place to live in. No girl child should have to give up on her education because she does not have access to a menstrual product. Menstruating people should not have to live in isolation during their periods. We need to redress all the harm done to menstrual health.
So, the next time you talk about your period, talk with valiance. Be proud of it – it is the force that drives the procreation of human beings.
Periods aren’t shameful. Periods aren’t revolting. Periods make us human.
|| By Shruti Menon ||