In India and many other places, "menstruation" is still a taboo topic. People generally do not talk about it openly. They prefer using "Maheena" or "Wo din" in Hindi, "Masik Pali" in Marathi, "Masik Dharm" in Punjabi, which means a monthly cycle, instead of saying menstruation.
Here are a few popular myths and misconceptions about menstruation:
1 Don't touch the bottle!
Since ancient times, women did not eat pickles thinking it will cause hormonal imbalances. Curd and tamarind are also avoided. Still in some families, women fear to touch the bottles of pickles and spices during their monthly period; eating is too far-fetched!
2 Stay away!
Women face social exclusion and isolation during their periods, as they are confined to a separate room in their house. In tribal areas, some women are sent to a hut outside their house to stay alone for 5 days and not mingle with family or friends. This social exclusion and isolation leave the woman with a low level of self-confidence.
3 Temple entry
Many women, irrespective of their age or religious affiliation, do not enter the places of worship like a shrine or temple during their monthly period. It is a hotly debated issue whether going to a temple during periods should be allowed for women of fertile age (10 to 50 years) or not. The Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed for changing entry norms into Shani Shinganapur Temple in Maharashtra, Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, and Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, Maharashtra are just a few famous examples. In each case, the judiciary upheld women's rights and declared "excluding women's entry into the shrine" as unconstitutional. As a result, women can now enter these places of worship.
4 Let the wedding bells ring!
In some households, when girls start menstruating at the early age of 10 to 14 years, their families decide not to educate them further but marry them off. They are not asked what their wishes are or what their ambitions are in life. Child marriage is a social customary practice in many countries of the world. Child marriage though abolished in India is still practiced in rural interiors; illiteracy and poverty being the major causes of child marriages.
The most recent incident took place on 1st July in Dombivali in Maharashtra, where police got a tip-off about the marriage of a minor girl with a man older to her by 10 years. The groom, his family, and the girl's parents were arrested under penal sections of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. As per the new report "Factsheet Child Marriages 2019" released by UNICEF, the highest prevalence of child marriage is in the three states of Bihar, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. No doubt there is a rise in school dropouts in India every year.
5 Superstitions and evil spirits.
In some cultures, women bury their used menstrual cloth to prevent them from being used by evil spirits.
6 You are dirty!
Women who menstruate face discrimination and are told that they are dirty. Their bodies are undergoing a change in those 5 days. There is pain, odour and a lot that follows. Women are advised to stay away from crowds.
7 Don't cut your hair!
There is a myth to not get a haircut during the five days of your period.
8 No cooking!
Traditionally, women avoid entering the kitchen or dining room. They even avoid cooking food. They eat in their room in isolation.
9 Don't touch plants!
Women are not allowed to touch plants like Tulsi, which is considered to be holy. Women are advised to stay away from trees like the Banyan, the Peepul, and the Coconut tree.
10 No sports!
Women are discouraged from playing sports like cycling, swimming, weight lifting, cricket, tennis, and wrestling. It is believed that a woman should rest as much as possible. She shouldn't lift heavy objects or do exercise.
No scientific basis for these practices and myths:
These myths and misconceptions can lead to severe adverse effects on the overall health of women. Women are not given a healthy diet leading to anemia and malnutrition. When they are confined to a hut outside their house to stay alone for 5 long days, their safety is jeopardized.
There is still no scientific basis or logical explanation for many of these practices, which are followed, not just in India, but in other parts of the world as well. Women's voices have always been silenced in the garb of religious practices, age-old customs, and traditions. The reason for prohibiting women from stepping out of the house could be that there weren't any separate toilet facilities for women to change their menstrual cloth after every few hours. The cloth could leak leaving a red patch on their clothes, which would make them embarrassed. In earlier times, home appliances like microwaves, washing machines, dishwashers, mixer-grinder were not used. Bodily pain during menstruation deterred women from cooking and cleaning, as these activities required extensive physical labour. Women avoided haircuts and waxing by not going to the salon, as the female body is highly sensitive to pain in those 5 days. Moreover, scarce travel facilities also deterred women from traveling. These infrastructural paucities and other social restrictions were given a religious garb with the passage of time. However, now the time is ripe to leave behind the rigid patriarchal mindset and allow women to spread their wings and fly.
Fortunately, in today's times with small nuclear families, both men and women divide their responsibilities and roles in the household like cooking, cleaning, bathing the children, fetching groceries, etc. If girls are staying at a hostel or studying at a residential school, they cannot stay indoors all the time. They have to work, participate in sports, carry out business, drive the car, or do other things that men would typically do. There is a change in the lifestyle and roles of women in the modern age.
"Anything you can do, I can do bleeding."
Mary Kom in the world of boxing, Serena Williams in the world of tennis, Gita Gopinath in economics, Jacinda Arden in New Zealand Politics, Angela Merkel in German public administration, Sudha Murthy in engineering and philanthropy, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw in business and biotechnology, Aruna Reddy in Gymnastics World Cup, Justice Leila Seth and Adv. Kapil Hingorani in Indian law, Sunita Williams in space research, Bachendri Pal, Tashi and Nancy Malik in mountaineering, Avani Chaturvedi in Flying Fighter Planes, Hima Das in athletics are the women who have proved to the world that a woman can do anything and everything despite menstruation.
Women should get access to higher education, employment as well as affordable eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products. Education and proper counseling can surely help women to combat menstrual taboos and myths. The statistical data of 2018 clearly shows that literacy rates for women have improved from 59.28% in 2011 to 65.79% in 2018. The increased literacy rates are also linked to an increase in GDP and economic development. The States with high literacy rates like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have lower rates of child marriage (below 20%). This reason can be better access to schools, separate toilet facilities for women, development in transport and communication as well as awareness regarding menstrual hygiene.
Menstruation for women is as natural as breathing. Women have been bestowed with the power of reproduction and procreation only because of this process. It is not dirty or unclean. Getting periods is not at all shameful. They are similar to the renewal of energy and the cycle of seasons. Gender sensitization and health programs in schools can sow the seeds of a better world for women's hygiene, health, and safety!
We at Saathi pads are trying to break these shackles which hold women back. We want to make menstrual hygiene products, for instance, a biodegradable sanitary napkin accessible to every human who menstruates. The planet as well as the human body needs to be protected from the hazards of plastic, just the way the human psyche needs to be protected from patriarchal myths and misogyny.
At Saathi, we developed all-natural biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads made of banana and bamboo fiber which are good for the body, community, and environment. When you purchase Saathi pads, you are not just getting a soft, rash-free product, but you’re also helping an Indian farmer, enabling a village girl to attend school because she has access to pads, and reducing plastic pollution and CO2 emissions! Hats off to you!
Follow us at @saathipads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, and Youtube to learn more facts and myth busters about sustainability, women’s health, and more. Let us know in the comment section your thoughts on menstrual taboos and myths, especially what you can do to help combat these taboos. We shall be happy to read them. Please share this blog with at least one friend, this will also help to break the taboos!
- The World's 100 Most Powerful Women https://www.forbes.com/power-women/#44164ac75e25
- 12 Indian-origin women achievers who made us proud in 2018 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/12-indian-origin-women-achievers-who-made-us-proud-in-2018/tomorrowmakersshow/70274833.cms
- Child marriage widespread in Bihar, Rajasthan and Bengal: UNICEF report https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/child-marriages-widespread-in-bihar-rajasthan-and-bengal-unicef-report-1454035-2019-02-12
- India: Literacy rate in 2011, 2015 and 2018 https://www.statista.com/statistics/271335/literacy-rate-in-india/
- Police step in to stop child marriage https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/police-step-in-to-stop-child-marriage/story-j6CFm6oGUusUy2WFKyD42M.html