We live in a world where roughly 49.6% of the total population is female, out of which 26% of women and girls are of menstrual age. As a young woman who has been taught to appreciate menstruation as the power of creation and proof of the feminine strength, it isn’t completely bizarre to expect the world to understand, accept and respect menstruation as a natural-biological process.
Unfortunately, like all other matters in a woman’s life, the one that she isn’t in control of is too condemned. Out of all the stereotypes and taboos that women have been subjected to since time immemorial, the ones pertaining to menstruation are the most unsettling.
Menstruation is an unaccepted reality of a woman’s daily life which is eventually associated with feelings of shame and disgust due to inaccurate and incomplete knowledge. Various myths from across the world perceive menstruation to be a sign of impurity and consider it unhygienic. These stereotypes manifest in the form of discriminatory practices in socio-cultural and religious spheres of life.
Myths and misconceptions that are associated with menstruation are not only illogical rather some of them are quite hilarious. In India, women are prohibited from entering places of worship or from handling food in the kitchen, in Afghanistan women are restricted from bathing whereas in Japan women were forbidden to make sushi during their menstrual cycle as it may lead to an imbalanced taste! In many countries, a common misconception is that girls are no longer virgins when they begin menstruating.
Misleading and distorted perceptions and notions such as these can have drastic effects on girls as young as 10 to 15 years when the first menstrual cycle begins. For years women all across the globe have spent their lives living with shame and guilt for a biological process they didn’t even ask for! Thus, making the awareness and advocacy of menstrual health and hygiene a priority.
According to a report by World Bank, at least 500 million women worldwide lack the access to adequate facilities for proper menstrual health management. The challenges faced by menstruating women are not just limited to the socio-cultural norms but also extends to the lack of access to resources.
“Period Poverty” is a term coined to define the lack of access to facilities such as sanitary napkins, hand washing facilities and proper menstrual health education. In developing countries like India even today, a large percentage of women in rural areas are forced to use potentially harmful domestic alternatives such as wood shavings, dried leaves, hay, old cloth etc.
Whatever items which they find is easily available, cheap and most absorbent is used during the period cycle without realizing its dangerous effects on the reproductive health. One of the prime reasons for resorting to such alternatives is the ‘tampon tax’ which is levied on feminine hygiene products. This makes products such as sanitary pads and tampons unaffordable for many. However, over the years through the efforts of various NGOs and activists advocating the cause of menstrual equity, many countries have reduced or abolished sales tax on these products.
Over the years organisations such as UNICEF, Wash United, Menstrual hygiene alliance and various other national level NGOs have worked diligently to spread awareness and increase accessibility of feminine hygiene products. UNICEF-menstrual health hygiene report of 2019 categorizes menstrual health advocacy as a global goal and states “MHH programmes can help girls build the skills to overcome obstacles to their health, freedom and development, such as gender-based violence, child marriage and school dropout.” Huge advancements have been made to reinforce proper menstrual hygiene through the years which has overtime emerged as a means to empower girls by giving them the right to make an informed choice.
However, the normalization of menstruation for each girl beginning to embark on this journey must begin at home. As someone who started her period at the age of 10, a word to parents of young girls all over the world “Never make your girls apologize for bleeding seven days every month. Teach them how this process isn’t a curse but a sign of infinite energy and creativity. Teach them how the blood that flows every month isn’t a sign of weakness or inferiority but a mark of how much they’re body can biologically withstand. Create a safe space for them where they can question, communicate and understand menstrual health management.
As for all the young girls out there ‘Your experiences of waking up at five am in the morning in blood stained pajamas, going to school or college with consistent cramps all over your body, rushing to work in spite of having countless pain killers and numerous other feats you achieve every day, doesn’t make you weak, it only stands as a testimony to your strength for which you deserve only love and respect. Give this world a little more time to understand, not everyone is as strong as you.’