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Why talking about menstruation is important?

Diksha Singh, Student, Banasthali Vidyapeeth, Edited by: Shivangi Pandia, Nyayshastram

Menstrual blood is the only source of blood that is not traumatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by women- Judy Grahn

Introduction

Women are one of the most beautiful creations of gods. They are placed at a higher pedestal than god, as they nurture life, and that makes them unique. God gave them the ability to nurture and foster and to give life. They bear the pain and keeps a child for nine months in their womb. The child, while in her mother’s womb, gets the nutrition and food through the umbilical cord. Despite the fact that they hold a unique position, there are many things they suffer from. Many crimes are reported against women; they are more prone to crimes of sexual offences and domestic violence. It is a commonly held perception of the society that women are the ‘weaker’ gender, but this is not at all true. They go through menstruation every month that is an excruciating process as the uterus lining breaks and muscles contract or tighten. Menstruation, commonly known as periods, is a natural biological process that happens to every woman for a considerable period of their lives. It is a process in which normal vaginal bleeding occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. Every month, a woman’s body prepares itself for pregnancy. If the pregnancy does not occur, the uterus, or the womb, sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissues from the inside of the uterus. It comes out of the body through the vagina. Usually, it begins when she hits puberty between the age of 11 to 14 and continues until the menopause at the age of about 50. The menstrual cycle usually lasts for 3 to 6 days. Women are affected both mentally and physically by this; the hormonal changes that occur due to the fluctuation in the oestrogen and progesterone levels trigger emotions and mood swings. Besides bleeding, women face abdominal cramps, pelvic pain, lower back pain, bloating, sore breasts, cravings for food, mood swings, irritability, headache and fatigue.

It is said that women are more powerful than men in the society, the saying is true because even facing such problems they stand up and keep working for their family and continue their respective jobs, without letting anyone know that they are going through the ‘tough’ time of their month.

There are many social stigmas and myths related to menstruation. Menstruation is one of the rarely discussed topics in families and schools. Many of the girls are not aware of this until they get their first menstrual cycle.[1] , according to a study by UNICEF had shown that one in three girls in south Asia had no knowledge of menstruation before their first period, and 48% of girls in Iran thought that menstruation was a disease.[2] Often considered a shameful and dirty source of female weakness, the secrecy surrounding menstruation has permeated every aspect of society, nurturing superstitions and taboos that are passed on through generations.[3] In many communities, menstruating girls and women are still banned from kitchens, crop fields, and places of worship. Even many of the temples do not permit women to enter its premises. Recently, in the case of Sabrimala temple[4], raised a considerable debate on whether the women should be permitted the enter temple or not? The majority judgment made it clear that the temple devoted to Lord Ayyappa cannot discriminate against the women of menstruating age by prohibiting their entry into a public place of worship.

If we look back the history, menstruation was not always considered to be impure. In many of the communities when a girl reaches the age of puberty and gets her first period, it is celebrated as a ceremony where she is given gifts and is honoured by the family members and the people who came to attend the ceremony. People are aware of the difficulty women face during their menstrual cycle. The main idea of prohibiting menstruating women from certain socio-cultural aspects earlier was just to give them time to take care of themselves.[5] Nevertheless, gradually this became the practice and turned into the perception that menstruating women are impure and dirty, and cannot become part of any puja or ceremony. Such taboos impact the girl’s and women’s emotional state.

Also, in many of the lower-income families, the access to sanitary products such as pads, tampons, or cups is limited, and girls often resort to using proxy materials such as mud, leaves, clothes or animal skins during their menstrual flow. This is very harmful to their health as it leads to many infectious diseases in them and sometimes also becomes one of the reasons for cancer. Many times, the adolescent girls have to miss school because of their menstruation cycle, and therefore in many rural-resource-poor settings, adolescent girls who are already disadvantaged by social norms miss a quarter of their education. Furthermore, this is not just confined to developing countries—a recent study by Plan International UK also reported menstrual-related school absences. One in ten girls aged 14–21 years in the UK cannot regularly afford menstrual products, forcing some to stay home from school and 42% of the girls have resorted to using makeshift sanitary napkin alternatives such as paper and socks.[6]

Thus, people should be made aware of usage of sanitary pads, and it should be put in the category of the necessary goods by the government and also, should be provided with a subsidy so that every girl can have access to sanitary pads. The Government of India through its National Rural Health Mission has approved for a scheme aimed at the distribution of sanitary napkins at low cost in rural areas.[7]

The increasing efforts worldwide to empower, educate, and engage the country leaders, communities, families, and adolescent girls and boys about menstruation and to highlight the rights of women and girls to manage their period hygienically are laudable.

. Enormous advances have been made in global child and adolescent health, maternal health, and women’s rights, yet the needs of the 300 million women and girls menstruating on any given day remain buried low on the global health agenda, simply because many are too embarrassed for frank discussions about menstruation. It is time to finally shun the absurd silence and shame that shroud this natural biological act. Menstruation, a sign of good health, must be normalised and celebrated.


Necessary Legal Framework and Role of Stakeholders


(1) Education and Sensitisation


The taboos and beliefs surrounding menstruation in India are considered a hush-hush topic in our society and are rarely discussed in social circles. To combat these myths in order to better the reproductive health of adolescent girls, the stakeholders like the parents, teachers, and the self-help groups in the rural areas must raise awareness among the adolescent girls pertaining to their menstrual health and hygiene. Women in rural areas shy away from discussing with their daughters about menstruation. Education would act as a key to break social taboos surrounding the menstruation. Education will help women educate other women and take part in decision making, as they understand their problem well than anybody in society—education aids in improving the health status of society at large and overcoming the cultural taboos.


(2) Sensitisation of Men and Boys


The projects or schemes started by the government would be beneficial only when there is a ground-level implementation of the schemes, and the subject is benefitted even if there is a distribution of sanitary napkins done at a village and a traditional family who do not allow their women to go out of the house, how that woman will get access to the napkin. For the successful implementation, families and especially men and boys must be sensitised about the menstruation cycle. Men can play a significant role in supporting their wives, mothers, daughters, female employees and every other woman around them.[8]


(3) Menstruation Benefits Bill


India as a country has witnessed quite many progressive/regressive changes in the past, but there are still many issues that have always been a taboo in our country, and one of them is ‘Menstruation’. The ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill’ has been tabled by Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament representing Arunachal Pradesh in 2018. The bill aims at providing working women in public and private sectors two days of paid menstrual leave. It also provides for the provision of setting up of facilities at the workplace for rest. The Indian society needs a law like this where the topic of ‘menstruation’ is met with raised eyebrows and shame. Proposing such a policy would be difficult, but is a step towards much-needed change.


(4) Lack of Infrastructure to Practise Safe Menstrual Cycle


To tackle the problem of menstruation taboos and socio-cultural perceptions, we need to adopt a multi-sectoral approach to tackle this problem. Now the time has changed and so have the challenges faced by women during menstruation. Earlier, they used to stay at home, and now with education and empowerment, women are achieving new heights. The schools, workplaces must have to have a proper infrastructure, provisions for a sanitary napkin. The lack of proper menstrual protection for the females at work and girls undermine their right to privacy.[9] In the case of Environmental and Consumer Protect Fund v. Delhi Administration & Ors[10], for the first time, the issue of sanitation for girls was brought up. Subsequently,, Supreme Court ordered all the government schools to make sure that there are separate washrooms for girls. The court also emphasised keeping in mind the increasing dropout rates of girls from school due to their periods as a consequence of not having separate washrooms in the schools. It also made it clear that disobedience of this would directly mean the violation of Right to Life of Children invoking Article 21.[11]

Conclusion

Conclusion Menstruation is just a normal biological process. However, the word has with itself attached social stigmas and taboos that have always traumatised the fair gender since time immemorial. The attached social taboo that menstruating women are ‘impure and dirty and need to be purified’, the exclusion from social ceremonies has not only impacted the adolescent girls and women but also turned into a form of social discrimination. This sort of approach does not only have a strong emotional impact, but it also acts as a hindrance to getting access to safe and hygienic menstrual health for women. The present analysis makes a case for a substantial national investment in menstrual hygiene management programs in schools and workplaces. A Menstrual Benefit Bill may be met with raised eyebrows, but it is the need of the hour, to end not just the taboos but ensure safe menstruation for every woman.

[1] Muthusamy Sivakami et al., Effect of menstruation on girls and their hygiene management in schools: surveys in government schools in three states in India, 2015, NCBI (2019), available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6286883/, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[2] United Nations, Menstrual Hygienne management of adolescent school girls and nuns, UNICEF (2018), available at https://www.unicef.org/bhutan/media/211/file, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[3] USAID, Spot On!, available at https://www.dasra.org/assets/uploads/resources/Spot%20On%20-%20Improving%20Menstrual%20Management%20in%20India.pdf, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[4] Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State of Kerala, W.P. (Civ.) No. 373 of 2006.

[5] S. Puri & S. Kapoor, Taboos and Myths associated with women health among rural and urban adolescent girls in Punjab. Indian Journal Community Medicine (2006), available at http://medind.nic.in/iaj/t06/i4/iajt06i4p295.pdf, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[6] Plan International UK, 40 % of girls have used toilet roll because they’ve struggled to afford sanitary wear, survey reveals (2018), available at https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/40-of-girls-have-used-toilet-roll-because-theyve-struggled-to-afford-sanitary-wear, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[7] Aarti Dhar, Scheme for low-cost sanitary napkins to rural girls approved, The Hindu (2010), available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/Scheme-for-low-cost-sanitary-napkins-to-rural-girls-approved/article16245441.ece, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[8] Anjali Tripathy et al., Putting the men into menstruation:the role of men and boys in community menstrual hygiene management, Waterline Publication (2017), available at https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Putting-the-men-into-menstruation.pdf, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[9] Kamaljit K. et al., Social beliefs and practices associated with menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls of Amritsar, Punjab, JIMSA (2012), available at http://medind.nic.in/jav/t12/i2/javt12i2p69.pdf, last seen on 06/08/2020.

[10] (2010) 15 SCC 261.

[11] Article 21, the Constitution of India.

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