Menstruation or Periods in women is a ‘Taboo’ subject in society. It is largely because of the severe stigma associated with it, which restricts both men and women to talk about menstruations in public. Society at large has failed to address this outrage practices. Last year in February there was one such incident in Gujrat, in a girl’s college, where around 60 girls were forced by the college authorities to remove their undergarments, to check whether they were menstruating. Reportedly few girls violated these restrictions, that the menstruating women would be prohibited to enter the temple, participation in religious ceremonies, or kitchen on the premises. The incident happened because the institution has well-defined rules which were to be followed by menstruating students. This incident highlights the stigma surrounding the subject, is direct result of the patriarchal, and orthodox mindset of the Indian society, and other conservatives societies around the world. This end up with the branding of menstruating women as polluted women, and the blood as impure.
According to an international survey conducted in 2015 by the period app Clue along with the International Women’s Health Coalition, there are 5,000 euphemisms used around the world for the words “menstruation” or “period.” For example Visit from Aunt Flo, On the Rag and Lady Business are funny.
The reason responsible for making it perpetrator
The patriarchal mindset of the Indian society and other orthodox, conservatives societies around the world are responsible for the creation of this taboo. Religious texts consider menstruation physically and spiritually unclear. Even Cherokee teachings, consider menstrual blood as “a potent force possessing rare destructive capacity” that could be unleashed in sorcery rituals.
This discrimination results in period poverty (the inability to access or afford feminine hygiene products). Based on the notion of impurity, society ostracizes menstruating women (even in educated households) are made to stay separate, and are prohibited from entering the kitchen, or the place of worship during this period. It is also responsible for putting girl students out of their schools, affects their education level, then the level of their involvement in the employment sector, which further decrease their participation in economic decisions of the family, which then affects their decision-making ability. The lack of representation of women in parliament leads to a less valid discussion of issues related to women. These all practices are being normalized in our households, responsible for the perpetuation of this practice of considering menstruation a taboo.
Why it is needed to release this taboo?
Due to these restrictions and taboos, women have to make several uncomfortable changes to their lifestyles, and adopt unhygienic practices. It also reinforce some gender-based discrimination, thereby affecting the self-confidence of women of all ages. It prevents women from being able to reach their full potential in their personal and professional lives. Society makes them feel as they are somehow inferiors to men, just because of different bodily function.
The constitution of India has a clear cut procession that the stigmatization of menstruation is a direct violation of Article 14, which prohibit any discrimination on the ground of sex. The higher court, such as Justice Chandrachud has made a remarkable observation in the Sabarimala case (filled against the prohibition to the entry of menstruating women in the temple) that any social practice which excludes women from participating in public life, as a result of their menstruation is discriminatory on the ground of their sex. The constitution and the higher courts also made it clear, that any restriction on these grounds affects the right to privacy, right to movement of women. Despite these rulings, we are yet to witness the required changes in society.
In a patriarchal society, where orthodox, or conservatives values are promoted, and the superstition is made the norm, it’s very difficult to bring in societal and behavioral changes, as in this regard even laws, and court rulings have limited impact.
How we can combat stigma?
This outrageous practice can’t be tolerated in modern society, because this mindset is an assault on the dignity of women, on their privacy, on the right to equality, and we also need to take the emotional account on the mental and physical wellbeing of women. The act of menstruation is just another bodily function similar to eating, urinating, or excreting. Now the only way we have to treat these practices as abnormal, by aggressively countering the patriarchal and orthodox mindset of the society, and make ourselves a responsible citizens.
School or family education should be inculcated in children irrespective of their gender, develop the habit of continuous learning, and updating self-knowledge to understand the situation better. Provide restrooms with an emergency menstrual kit available to the needy, one half-day work in casual leave per month which should not add on to leave. This is the need of the time because if half population is being discriminated against like this, we will never able to experience the true oneness.