Menstruation: A term that awakens shame, fear and anxiety

Menstruation is something that girls and women of all ages are familiar with. It is an intricate part of our being. People say that the onset of periods is the beginning of our true womanhood. We are defined by it. We are shamed because of it. And we are condemned when we openly talk about it. This has been the case for centuries now and no major change has been seen even though we are in 2020.

If you want to test it out you can try talking to an adult or a male member of your family about your periods. They might not be enraged but they would surely be dumbstruck. They would not know how to respond. Do you notice what happens when you go to buy sanitary napkins? You would not be given the packet unless it is wrapped in a newspaper and then put inside a black polythene bag. The walk home feels like walking with a ticking bomb in your hand. The struggle doesn’t end when you reach home. You then have to keep the packet somewhere out of reach from the male members of your family. You cannot let them see that you use sanitary napkins to help you during experiencing something as natural as the process of menstruation. 

You do not need to be a biology student or have a medical degree to understand what menstruation means. If you are a boy who has never been told about it before or a girl who doesn’t really understand the concept (nobody will judge you for that) then I would make it simple for you. - Menstruation is a part of the reproductive cycle in which blood and tissue debris discharge from the uterus through the vagina. A woman’s body prepares itself for pregnancy each month for which the uterine wall goes through some changes. When a woman does not conceive the uterine wall tissue sheds off and the cycle keeps repeating. 

Women have to go through a lot of struggles, especially in the rural areas because of the taboos and stigmas attached with the concept of menstruation. We have heard stories of girls who have to leave school when they start bleeding, of women who are barred from entering the kitchen or any place of worship, and of females who are either locked up in a separate room or made to stay out of their home whenever they have periods. Some believe that women become impious during menstruating. As a result, they are not allowed to touch anything or anyone for fear that they would also become impious. You must have heard of the classic stigma that pickles get spoiled if you touch them while you are on your periods. Even the teachers skip the chapters that talk about menstruation. 

There are not enough clean public bathrooms. The condition of the schools in the rural areas is even worse. They provide no support to the menstruating girls and they do not care about the unsanitary conditions of the classrooms and bathrooms.

There are over 355 million menstruating girls and women in India. However, about 70% of Indian women still use clothes or rags to soak the flow. Some even use ashes, mud, or sawdust. They are made to stay in unhygienic conditions. These practices make them vulnerable to a number of health issues including fungal infections, reproductive tract infection, urinary infection and risk of infertility. 

If you are wondering how you can make a difference, the answer is very simple: be comfortable with the idea of menstruation and educate your friends to do the same. The government is doing its part through several programs such as Menstrual hygiene scheme launched by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, SABLA program of Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Rural Livelihood Mission of the Ministry of Rural Development and Swachh Bharat Mission (it includes menstrual hygiene management as its integral part.) The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) has also issued 'Menstrual Hygiene Management Guideline'. 

However, the efforts of the government won't be effective unless we, the common people, become ready to accept the positive changes. It is our responsibility to ensure the well-being and safety of half of India's population, that is, the female population of India. Welcome the change, be the change. 


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