This blog of mine is for all lovely women out there (specifically India), taboos they face, practices and rituals they are made to follow and superstitious beliefs that needs to be uprooted. And all of them related to menstruation. I read many articles recently shelving cultural practices around menstruation, calling them ‘Menstrual Taboos’, but till date there are women who follow such menstrual practices. Some might follow them under pressure, some because of their age-old theories and some because of lack of proper education and awareness. My blog is not just for women but also for men who remain confused, and have never known what to make of menstrual practices – to support or to dismiss them. For men who don’t want to be a part of this ‘Woman Problem’ but they know it all and it’s their right to tell a woman what to do and what not!! Being a woman myself, I feel it’s my responsibility to make population aware and educated and make them realize that none of these practices were originally meant to suppress women. That it’s a biological process awaiting healthier acceptance and understanding.
From past few months our organization and team has conducted sessions at various places in order to interact with women and girls, learn their problems, menstrual practices they follow and its impact on them. We came across many narratives, which screams the extent of interdicts women are facing in our country.
“I am not allowed to touch anything except the bed sheet on my separate bed and the utensils in which I ate during my menstrual cycle. The first two days of my menstrual cycle, every month, are just about remembering things I am not allowed to do or touch; sofa, cushions, towels, pickle, touch my siblings, my parents, enter the kitchen and the temple. If I did touch something by mistake I would invite rage of my mother as she thinks I am impure during this period.” This personal narrative is the reality of many young girls growing up in India and I still don’t understand how can a basic life process turn someone impure, unholy and unsuitable to touch or eat with??
The issue of menstrual blood and our relationship with it is one that has puzzled me for long. It is sort of ironic. We consider menstrual blood impure and dirty, restrain women from entering kitchens and temples and eating and sleeping with family, but at the same time we find it powerful and a proof of one’s womanhood. We are never ready to accept a woman who has menstruation problems, as we foresee it as her incapability of bearing a child, a successor to our family. Isn’t this strange? Something so impure according to us that we forcing a woman to sleep on floor during her most difficult days, but at the same time we want her to be a part of that whole process. If we are realizing the significance of this development in our lives, why can’t we accept it in a more confident way and give comfortable and hygienic menstrual periods to our women?? Million bucks question!!!
A natural process, just like many other going on in our body results in eliminating women for a certain period of time from everyone and everything around and this is not by her choice. She cannot question or deny these practices; she doesn’t have enough freedom to do so. During my interactions, I realized that most women who follow ‘Menstrual Rituals’ are not concerned with modern science’s outlook. For majority of them, it is veneration to an age-old belief system; they want to be keepers of. In India, cultural practices are one of the major forces influencing outlooks on menstruation. Also I feel, at the core of the problem, lies a woman’s attitude towards her menstrual cycle. If she doesn’t feel good about it, she will not consider herself worthy necessary care and hygiene during menstruation. She has to be confident, optimistic and bold. She has to know the science behind, before following any practice blindly. And if not needed, she has to gather the courage to say no.
The chronicle of menstrual blood is not as trivial as it may sound. It is profoundly embedded in the cultural practices and mindset of the people of our country. This is the main reason, which further take away any choice on the part of women to choose their temperament towards it. She is just told to follow. While I think, a girl’s relationship with her menstrual blood, should be something left to her prudence alone. She is the one to decide whether to celebrate it, use it as a time to relax, not to do daily chores, or carry on like it was just another day. Let it be her choice. Being a mother or grandmother or an elder of the house, just tell her about various conceptions related to menstrual blood, don’t tie her down to them. Your view on menstrual blood or cycle is not a legacy you need to necessarily hand down to your girl. Instead, hand her the right belief, right view, right awareness and right thinking. Teach her to question everything, before she follows!!
Refusing girls or women an opportunity to debate and make their own judgment on something as personal as menstrual cycle is refusing them a choice to engage with their own bodies. It affects their gender individuality, their perception and future opinion. We need to encourage open discussions with young girls and boys on this topic.
As I am working on building positive attitude towards menstruation, I clearly see the importance of interactions, open discussions and education young generation about menstruation associated problems and taboos. A real change demands a transformation in the mindsets of people comprising a society. As long as these initiatives are limited to a handful of people, taboos wont break. We need this discussion to take place in homes, on dinner tables, amongst siblings and parents and children, in a classroom, in a seminar hall, amongst teacher and a student. At every level, awareness and education is required.
Speak about menstrual cycle, necessary hygiene and care. Tell them that it’s natural and nothing to be horrified about. It does not make them impure and no belief or ritual can suppress them or their potentials.