For centuries, menstruation has remained a hush-hush topic in India. Any girls and women in South Asia - young and old, educated and uneducated, rural and urban, rich and poor - feel ashamed talking about their periods. Even in the 21st century, where technology and science are rapidly progressing, many women fall prey to the rigid gender norms of patriarchy. While the phenomenon is considered natural and healthy for women of reproductive age, females have often been in the spotlight for experiencing 'that time of the month'.
When a girl attains reproductive maturity, her body undergoes several natural changes. These changes are triggered by hormones secreted generally by the body and prepare the girl for a potential pregnancy in a few years. While menstruation and human rights might appear as subjects that are poles apart, many times, the two have to be viewed through the same lens when women and their menstruation phenomenon is concerned.
Menstruation And Human Rights
The United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) describes those human rights are present to ensure that every human being, irrespective of their caste, gender, race, ethnicity and religion, deserves basic respect to live their life with dignity. Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity – when people cannot access safe bathing facilities and safe and effective means of managing their menstrual hygiene; they are not able to manage their menstruation with dignity. Menstruation-related teasing, exclusion and shame also undermine the principle of human dignity.
Avni, a menstrual hygiene startup in India, surveyed to understand the myths followed by Indian women during their monthly menstruation cycle. The survey reinstated that conversation around menstrual hygiene remains a taboo in society, as over 33 per cent of respondents said that they did not know of periods before experiencing their first menstruation. At the same time, 35 per cent of women had little idea about the phenomenon. This becomes grave as over 47.4 per cent of women experienced severe abdominal pain on their first menstruation. Dealing with menstruation for the first time and having no knowledge highlights the wide persistent gap in society about the need for awareness of the common phenomenon.
Sujata Pawar- Co-Founder, Avni- Conscious menstrual healthcare startup, said in the official press release, "The survey has brought a lot of existing concerns of the society related to menstruation. We are in 2022, and women have still advised isolation instead of care during their periods. More importantly, most of the women were left hung out to dry when they experienced their first menstruation when they had no clue about what their body was going through. They were still at a tender age, and proper knowledge would have helped them prepare mentally and physically. The situation demands an accelerated approach towards the wider spread of information and social evolution".
Several misconceptions that women faced regarding what a menstruating woman should follow were shared in the survey, including - women on periods must avoid religious practices or even entering a sacred place, must avoid touching pickles, should not workout, must not enter the kitchen or handle everyday food items or common utensils, should not wash hair, must not have sexual intercourse while menstruating, must not touch Tulsi plant or else it will die, the woman becomes impure during periods. She must avoid dairy products, amongst many other myths.
20% Of Girls Dropout After Puberty
The spread of awareness about menstruation in schools, especially in rural areas, is under-reported. Today, 20 per cent of girl students in India drop out of school after attaining puberty. Lack of sanitary napkin vending machines and a clean and hygienic washroom are among the most common challenges girls face in rural India. Another common misconception is that women and girls have diminished physical or emotional capacities due to their menstrual cycles. These ideas can create barriers to opportunities, reinforcing gender inequality. In truth, most women and girls do not have their abilities hindered by menstruation.
Findings also suggested that a considerable section of girls first felt horrified when they had their first period because they thought they had contracted some disease. Surprisingly, about 15 per cent of the girls said they felt ashamed for being a girl during their periods. While 75 per cent of the respondents said that they experienced cramping and paid during their periods, about 20 per cent of them said that they were not even aware of the reason for their monthly periods.
In most cases, mothers are the primary contact person, and they provide the information to their daughters. It is essential to impart knowledge to them so that the scientific explanation of menstruation is passed from one generation to another. Almost all the girls admitted that they took leave during this month because of pain, fear of stain, difficulty disposing of the used pad and other issues.
Highlighting the physical challenges women face beyond cramps during periods, around 50 per cent of the women said they face skin challenges, including rashes and irritation, using the regular chemical-based sanitary pads. Approximately 49.9 per cent of women tried over three different sanitary pad brands before settling for their current. Following the foray of new-age organic healthcare products, the survey brought to light the scenario wherein women have tried eco-friendly menstrual products- over 58.9 per cent of women tried organic cotton pads, over 19.2 per cent of women tried menstrual cups, 16.3 per cent of women respondents said that they attempted antimicrobial reusable cloth-based pads. 45.8 per cent of the respondents expressed interest in permanently switching to eco-friendly menstrual products.
The need of the hour is to sensitize all genders about menstruation and how it impacts a woman's life. The learning process begins at a foundational level, at home and in schools. Therefore, parents and teachers need to make special efforts to normalize menstruation in their homes and schools.