Why The Conversation About Periods Needs To Come Centre Stage
For the longest time, women have been considered ‘impure’ during their menstrual cycle – they are often made to stay away from any special or festive occasions or at times, even normal chores. Their return to normal routines was considered okay, only once their cycle was over.
Before we start talking about periods, let’s take a look at some of the most common myths that are associated with ‘that time of the month’:
- When you are menstruating, you are impure, which means that anything you touch will become impure too. In rural India, menstruating girls are not allowed to enter the kitchen, while in urban parts, they are not allowed to enter the pooja room or touch any holy objects. They are not allowed to participate in any poojas or religious occasions.
- During those days, the body emits a specific energy that can spoil preserved foods, which is why you are not allowed to enter the kitchen or touch jars of pickles.
- If you eat sour foods like tamarind, pickles or even curd, it will disrupt the flow, leading to a range of health problems.
- Doing any kind of physical activity will increase the blood flow and cause problems later on in life.
- Taking a bath in a river or pond would make the water impure too, which is why, you should not take a bath in any such water bodies for the first three days of the cycle.
- If you happen to touch a cow during this time, the cow will become infertile and not produce offspring or milk.
At Educate Girls, we have opportunities to work with girls from several rural areas and more often than not, we get to listen to all these myths. Not only are the families not willing to talk openly about periods, they are often not ready to listen to reasoning either. Science has proven that menstruation is just like any other bodily function and requires no special precautions – menstruating girls can work in the kitchen or anywhere else. They can touch anything and anybody and nothing will happen – sour foods will remain sour, pickles will remain pickled and the consumption of these will not cause any major problems either. Staying active will actually help reduce menstrual cramping and improve the general mood of the girls.
We come across so many young girls, who are petrified by the concept of periods, simply because they are not aware of what it is – their families choose to not talk about it openly or are often ill-equipped to educate the little ones properly. Science tells us that the reason for menstruation is ovulation that is followed by a missed chance of a pregnancy happening. The unfertilised ovum is removed from the body, that results in bleeding from the endometrial vessels as the body prepares for the next cycle. But not a lot of parents would have this kind of education or information to give to their daughters; they choose to stick to the myths and half-baked information that they had received and pass the same on.
Unfortunately, when people, especially parents of girls, choose not to talk about menstruation, they are laying the foundation to several problems. Let’s take a look at some of the problems that girls are facing, all over the country, today:
- In the national capital territory of Delhi, there are 1534 public toilets for men, but only 132 for women.
- In India, 355 million are estimated to be in the age group where they would be menstruating – out of this enormous number, only 36% uses sanitary napkins. The rest use old rags, newspaper, leaves and so on to manage their flow.
- In rural India, close to 80% girls miss school for an average of 3 days a month, which normally coincides with their periods.
- Close to 23 million girls drop out of school each year, as soon as they start their periods.
Every single one of the problems mentioned above can be attributed to one simple fact – we don’t talk freely about periods!
The very first period is often a scary concept for most young girls, however, if they are well equipped with all the information they need and are given the support they deserve, there is little to actually worry about. For starters, if a young girl goes to school, chances are that the teachers will explain why and how menstruation happens. More importantly, several schools in India are now providing free sanitary pads – many girls receive packs of 10 sanitary pads, each month from their school. By using proper sanitary pads, these girls are protecting themselves from a range of health-related illnesses that could arise due to dirty rags or cloth.
Menstruating girls often choose to drop out of school, because they are worried about the heckling that they might face at the hands of the boys, should there be any staining. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a school in rural or urban India, the chances of you being made fun of at the hands of boys in such situations is extremely high. As a matter of fact, a study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that 64% women were not comfortable with talking about periods and menstrual cycle with their male friends. This is one of the reasons why talking about periods with guys needs to be normalised and should happen more often. So, you see, its not just about educating girls, but also the boys – periods are a normal and natural part of life and talking about needs to be normalised.
How do we combat this situation and how do we normalise the conversation about periods?
Social taboos aside, it is important to remember that this is a conversation that is directly associated with the reproductive health of women and generating and building awareness is imperative. Young girls, especially those with uneducated mothers, have access to limited or no knowledge about menstruation – community-based education programs are a great way to get the conversation going and remove several misconceptions. Provision of sanitary pads and proper infrastructure like toilets and clean water are all part of the solution and need to be normalised.
Over the years, Educate Girls has been striving hard to bring girls back to school – whether they have had to drop out due to financial distress or because of the start of their menstrual cycle, we understand that they deserve the opportunity to have a proper education.
If you too feel that girls deserve the chance of equal education, then join hands with us and donate to a good cause!
Posted on January 24, 2023