The monthly occurrence that is menstruation is the sign of a healthy woman – something worthy of celebration. She is the bearer of life, the reason why we exist on earth. Sadly, however, the global society we live in has a severely sexualized surface, which makes addressing matters like menstrual health, secondary – almost better left ignored.
Menstruation is stigmatized in India and this stigma comfortably slips into literal life and creeps up on us as the suggested norm. Despite people screaming about being keen to grow, be more inclusive, it’s only too often that one finds themselves disappointed upon noticing people skirting around the subject of periods.
When broken down, this stigma offers immense context as to how Indian society looks today. Women in certain rural societies are quarantined to “go have their period” away from anything normal that they might taint while in that ‘unholy’ condition. They are banished to small,
In many homes, urban and rural alike, women aren’t supposed to set foot in the kitchen while menstruating, because kitchens are a ‘clean’ space; the very opposite of what a menstruating woman is perceived as.
Women are also meant to refrain from praying while on their period. They are to keep away from the ‘puja room’ in the house and from temples in general.
Certain rural cultures have women bury the cloth they used for the duration of their period because they consider the menstrual blood to be something evil that can be used against them via black magic. Other households even go so far as to control diets, ensuring menstruating women don’t consume sour foods like yogurt, pickles, and tamarind – as these may disrupt or altogether stop their flow.
Some rural women are also meant to abstain from bathing for at least the first few days of their period because water is a form of pristine life flow and should be kept at bay from something as ‘impure’ as a woman on her period.
At some home in India, women are not only not meant to pray but also expected to refrain from touching the holy book, prayer rug and even rosary beads during that time of the month, because they are considered to be unclean.
Around the world, we can find equally bizarre stories to demonize the bleeding woman: in Poland, there’s an old wives’ tale that suggests: if a woman has sex on her period, it may kill her partner. In Malaysia, it is believed that if a woman doesn’t wash her pad before disposing of, ghosts will haunt her. And in the Philippines, you must wash your face in your first menstrual blood ever if you want clear skin!
Superstitions only become real within the continuum of practice. Truly, I grew up feeling like I was doing something wrong every time I happened to “break a period rule”. Beliefs in practice become tangible truths – and it takes years (and a bottomless pit of strength) to unlearn ‘fake news.’
The root cause for the existence of all these comfortably adopted myths as culture, is the embarrassment and shame associated with acknowledging reproduction: the obvious result of sexual activity.
For women to bask “in the pink of (menstrual) health” we have to start by talking about it. Addressing all that is good about menstruation as much as we acknowledge how much about it can be frustrating. Talking about it will not only reveal facts and truths but also attempt to normalize something that has been condemned over time simply because the truth makes people uncomfortable.
While this might all be almost okay on some level (because ignorance is bliss once you’re old enough) – what’s not okay is what all this unnecessary superstition and myth-full living does to the self-worth & self-esteem of young girls and old women – who often have to fight battles with their younger selves in order to grow up.
Some things change to grow – it is THAT TIME OF THE LIFE for all Indian minds.
This article has been contributed by Nazish Mir, Co-founder, Laiqa- a premium, bio-degradable sanitary napkin brand.