In the 21st Century, so many women are independent and hold power to decide for themselves what they do with their lives. But in several Indian states like Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and even our neighbouring country Nepal, many more women still suffer under old traditions, forced to live in a pathetic condition during the time of menstruation.
The taboo around menstruation in India affects women’s health. Deep-rooted attitudes like women are impure, filthy, or sick during their periods means they are not allowed to use the kitchen on those days. It shows the mentality of our society. Even in our cities, 75% of women still buy their pads wrapped in a brown bag or newspaper. There is still shame associated with menstruation, thanks to which countless women from poorer backgrounds rely on unhygienic cloth rags, reusing the same, which lead to anaemia and other diseases. In rural areas, women use ash, newspaper, and dirty clothes.
For representation only.
Recently in Nepal, a menstruating woman with her two children was banished from her house and forced to live in a hut (Chaupadi). Amba Bohra, a 35-year-old woman lit a fire inside the shed to keep warm. When fabric caught fire, they suffocated to death from the smoke. Confined to this ‘menstrual hut’, menstruating women are expected to sleep through Himalayan winters. In the year 2017, the Chaupadi system was banned by the Nepal Government. The punishment for continuing the practice is three months’ imprisonment or a $30 fine. But it has been found villagers continuously break the law, only to keep alive century-old myths. Are these myths are more important than the life of a woman?
Society Sparsh, an Indian NGO highlighted the issue of the pathetic condition of women’s of Maharashtra during menstruation. Women are made to live in Gaokors outside the village, a hut similar to the chaupadi, which lacks a bed to sleep in, a kitchen to cook food in, and electricity too. To eradicate this practice, in July 2015, the National Human Rights Commissions directed the Maharashtra Government to take effective steps towards the safety, hygiene, and dignity of the state’s women
Many NGOs conduct workshops to educate young girls about the menstrual cycle, and social media campaigns have been launched with the hope to change the attitude towards the taboo and stigma around menstruation. But most women are yet to stand up for themselves and fight society’s backward mentality about menstruation.
To educate people, a movie called “Padman” was released in the year 2018. It is based in the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social worker from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. He invented a low-cost pad-making machine and educated the citizens in rural areas about the unsanitary conditions and the methods which they had been using during the menstrual cycle. Banned in Kuwait, and refused a No-Objection Certificate in Pakistan, the film was deemed too scandalous. The reason? “We cannot allow a film whose name, subject and story are not acceptable yet in our society.”
Isn’t an open discussion about the taboo and old myths of the menstrual cycle (which directly impacts the lives of women) more important than society’s attitude? What happens to girls’ and women’s emotional, mental and physical health, as a result of this? Large numbers of girls in many economically under-developed countries drop out of school when they begin menstruating. This includes over 23% of girls in India. Over 77% of menstruating girls and women in India use an old cloth, which is often reused. Further, 88% of women in India sometimes resort to using ashes, newspapers, dried leaves and husk sand to aid absorption. The challenge of addressing the socio-cultural taboos and beliefs about menstruation is further compounded by the fact that girls’ knowledge levels, and understandings of puberty, menstruation, and reproductive health are deficient.
It is pertinent to follow a strategic approach to combating the myths and social taboos associated with menstruation to improve the reproductive health of adolescent girls and women. The first and foremost strategy in this regard is raising awareness and promoting education about hygiene and health among adolescent girls. Provision of sanitary napkins and adequate facilities for sanitation and washing should be made available, with the gender perspective in mind. In Delhi, there are an estimated 132 public toilets for women. The government of India has approved a scheme to improve menstrual hygiene for 1.5 crore adolescent girls by distributing low-cost sanitary napkins in rural areas under the National Rural Health Mission since 2010.
All of this is well and good, but the question arises: when will women stand up for themselves and raise a voice against the sick traditions of society which exploits them?