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Menstrual Beliefs: A Code Red

A woman, the trans population and intersex individuals bleed for almost half of their lives, undergo hormonal changes and emotional pain but are still shamed and continue to suffer in silence.

In India, since time immemorial, Menstruation has always been a silent topic that is only discussed behind closed doors. Even though it's a natural, biological phenomenon that half of the population across the globe experiences but is still considered to be impure? Furthermore, the stigma against menstruation increases when certain euphemisms are commonly used. Using euphemisms may seem inoffensive, although it proves to be toxic and indicates certain perspectives on the phenomenon. The reason behind the stigma against menstruation is because various cultures around the world have formed unhealthy beliefs and thoughts on menstruation.

Even in the 21st century most of us have witnessed unimaginable things but something as basic as menstruation isn’t normalised. Even now, young girls and women are prohibited from entering temples, kitchens, and touching plants. Period poverty is tremendously real and the inability to purchase period supplies is much more common than we believe. However, it is important to note that period poverty does not only trouble the population in developing countries but also individuals from developed and wealthy countries. Difficulty in affording period supplies leads to many individuals staying at home, missing on significant opportunities in their career or academics.

However, the stigma begins when adolescents are not appropriately educated about the concept of menstruation. The lack of education also fuels the stigma. Furthermore, women make use of unhygienic substances which lead to cervical cancer and reproductive tract infections. Adding to this, women from poorer backgrounds live without access to hygienic washrooms. Studies show that 1 in 10 young girls in Africa miss school when they are menstruating which often leads to dropping out altogether which puts them at a greater risk of child marriage and pregnancies.

How Different countries, cultures and religions contribute to stigma against menstruation-

One of the many cultures contributing to the stigma is the one peculiar tradition followed is Chhaupadi, in Nepal where women and young girls are banished in cowsheds while they’re menstruating. They are kept in these cow sheds for 13 days during their first menstrual cycle and 5-7 days every month for the rest of their lives. These women are prohibited from something as basic as water, they are not allowed to use communal water resources and are not granted to bathe or wash clothes from these resources. The Nepalese population believe that this tradition should be followed because of religious beliefs for Hindu Gods. They conclude that if these rules aren’t followed, the gods would get furious and curse the family. To fix this “curse”, a ritual has to be organised wherein the woman has to apologise to the Gods and usually a hen, cow amongst others are sacrificed. Young girls and women have lost their lives due to this tradition which led to rallies being held as a symbol for the urgency of terminating this tradition. Although Nepal criminalised this practice in 2017, it is observed that this tradition is still being practised.

Certain sects of Judaism consider talking about menstruation to be personal and private. In Judaism, a woman becomes spiritually impure when she has her period and is not allowed to engage in any sexual activity with her husband. She reclaims her spiritual purity by immersing in a spiritual bath. The spouses need to steer clear of physical contact and are even supposed to sleep on separate beds.

- Spiritual bath associated with Judaism ritual

These laws are developed to reduce any possible sexual activity that could occur. Many have even suggested that by decreasing any sexual contact, a couple could strengthen their relationship by bonding emotionally and spiritually. The spiritual bath is obtained from ancient notions of purity and impurity. In recent times, this tradition has significantly declined due to it being patriarchal and confining but at the same time, it is also being practised by various Jewish groups for religious reasons.

Countries and Cultures that celebrate menstruation-

Menstruation in Tamil Nadu is no less than a celebration. Manual Neerattu Vizha is a grand tradition wherein invitation cards are sent out to relatives, and friends. There are certain instances wherein families even erect hoardings of the young girl who is menstruating. The aunt of the girl constructs a hut made of coconut, mango and neem. The girl bathes in turmeric water and is supposed to stay in a separate hut where men are forbidden. This hut consists of metal brooms and delicacies. This tradition is celebrated for 9 days.

Raja Parba in Odisha is a three day festival which celebrates womanhood. This festival takes place because people believe that Mother Earth menstruates during this time and lays the foundation for the agricultural season and the monsoon. Young girls and ladies are not supposed to do their household chores during this festival and are encouraged to play indoor games.various pithas which are traditional cakes are also prepared during this festival.

In some parts of Japan, when a young girl first menstruates, the family rejoices and celebrates her first period by feasting on traditional food, namely, “Seikhan” which comprises sticky rice and adzuki beans. The red colour of Seikhan is a symbol of happiness and celebration.


Why do we still cover our period supplies while purchasing them or going to use the washroom?

To end the shame around menstruation, we must have open and honest conversation about the process without feeling embarrassed. When we talk about a certain topic openly, we play a role in ending the stigma on a larger scale, along with making period supplies must be made affordable.

Lastly, so many young ones are not even educated about what a menstrual cycle is unless they experience it. It’s absolutely necessary for parents and educational institutions to provide knowledge to individuals about menstruation and everything about it.

As mentioned above, various cultures across the world treat menstruation differently and according to their customs and traditions. However, we must come to a realisation that at the end of the day, it’s just a biological phenomenon and there is nothing to be ashamed about.

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