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Breaking the menstrual taboo

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By Shweta sharma

Toronto-based poet Rupi Kaur’s image showing blood-stained pants was recently deleted by a mobile photo and video sharing service Instagram, stating it goes “against community guidelines”. Menstruation has always been a “taboo” subject resulting in a conspicuous silence surrounding this natural body function in women.

periodExperts feel this silence needs to be replaced with a conversation that would result in changing mindsets from rejection to confidence. Despite women’s emancipation, many girls and women still face rejection during “those days” and are asked to not visit a temple, not to attend pujas, not cook food, sit on separate beds and not discuss it with the male members of the family.

“Menstruation is a taboo across the globe. Myths associated with it are mostly observed in developing countries especially in villages. Many boys/men doen’t even know the basic science/biology behind menstrual hygiene. Until and unless we create basic awareness about menstrual hygiene among girls, women, boy and men the situation will not change,” Jaydeep Mandal, founder, of Aakar Innovations that enables women to produce and distribute affordable, high-quality compostable sanitary napkins within their communities, told IANS.

Nupur Gupta, consultant and unit head, gynecologist and obstetrician at Gurggaon’s Paras Hospital, said breaking a taboo starts with broaching the subject.

“The best place to do so is in schools, where the topic can be incorporated into hygiene and sexual education. This requires sound knowledge (and in some cases also the courage of teachers) on how to use sanitary items and related issues,” Gupta told IANS.

Understanding that menstruation is a distinct biological female attribute women should be “proud” of needs to be fostered, she added.

Kathy Walkling, co-founder at Eco Femme, a social enterprise working in the area of menstrual hygiene management, said that consequences of this include adolescent girls not given accurate preparatory information prior to onset of menstruation.

Listing the other consequences, Walkling told IANS: “Insufficient attention in society to the needs of adolescent girls for privacy and a dignified way to manage menstruation, expectations of girls and women to adhere to many rules and restrictions that for many are perceived as constraining (e.g. not entering temple) and for those who cannot afford it and adoption of unhealthy practices such as using unsanitary materials to absorb the menstrual flow.”

Serving the needs of economically disadvantaged girls and women in India, Eco Femme provides menstrual health education and free washable pads to adolescent girls through its Pad-forPad programme.

Experts point out that menstrual hygiene has an important role in genital tract infections and is also one of the causes of cervical cancer.

According to gynecologists, use of alternative sanitary care measures such as unsterilised cloth, sand and ash make women susceptible to infections and diseases.

Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women in India, with approximately 1.32 lakh new cases being diagnosed and about 74,000 deaths every year.

Filling this lacuna, Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul-founded Menstrupedia, a friendly guide to periods that helps girls and women stay healthy and active during their periods.

Menstrupedia aims at delivering informative and entertaining content through different media and shattering the myths and misunderstandings surrounding menstruation for ages.

“The culture of silence is the main cause of all the problems and awareness and the only way out. Urinary tract infections are very common. Only 12 percent of Indian women used sanitary napkins,” Gupta told IANS.

“It’s self-esteem and self-confidence which is hampered the most. If a girl or a women can’t even talk about her natural biological process, how will she ever talk about any violence that she faces on her body,” she asked.

Gupta added that information about menstruation is not complex, it is a small amount of information that every girl and woman should be provided with – and that too at an early age so that she is better prepared to take care of herself during her cycle.

“But its complex to achieve this when teachers skip the chapter on periods, the school curricula address this only in class eight and nine while girls get their periods in class six or seven. When a girl gets her period, it’s the mothers who say not to speak about it even to their father of bothers. We raise our girls with shame and boys with ignorance,” she added.