Breaking the cultural taboos and stigma about menstruation is a challenging task but one that needs urgent attention. A variety of cultural taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation deeply impact women and girls in both developed and developing countries. Almost always, there are social norms or unwritten rules and practices about managing menstruation and interacting with menstruating women. It is very unfortunate that even today, in such modern times, menstruation is very misunderstood. This has led to some truly weird and bizarre belief systems, customs and traditions worldwide.
In many cultures, menstruation is not talked about. It can be seen as dirty or impure and the silence around it can lead to a lack of knowledge, which can generate damaging misconceptions. Misunderstandings surrounding periods are deep-rooted in gender inequality and lack of knowledge on the subject. We will be spotlighting some of these superstitions, myths and taboos from societies across the globe. Nearly 30% of US women feel uncomfortable in social situations when on their periods, and less than 5% feel comfortable talking about menstruation to men other than their partners.
There is still a mind-blowing lack of knowledge about menstruation. For example, seven out of 10 adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until their first period. Educating girls – and ideally, boys too – is essential to ensure that menstruation is perceived as a normal bodily function. Education also provides girls with the information and the confidence they need to handle their periods safely and hygienically. More and better menstrual hygiene education is needed across the globe. Decades of evidence indicate that educating girls improves the overall health of their communities.
A Global Problem:
Menstruation is a natural process, yet in many places, several superstitions, taboos and myths perpetuate fear and further propagate the need to associate people who bleed with untouchability. In some places, women are not allowed to touch utensils that are used for cooking food for the entire family and in others, women need to be kept in a secluded space while she bleeds. Sounds ludicrous? It is. But this practice exists in Nepal. We find it shocking that women are being forced into isolation and in cases like this, having to sacrifice their lives based on a purely natural bodily function. For many women and girls, menstruation is associated with restrictions, shame and superstitious beliefs
Menstruation is also associated with traditional superstitions such as evil, ghosts, etc. As well as those cloths used during the cycle – which can be used for black magic. So, in several places, girls bury their cloth pieces or burn them, spit on the cloth pieces and then throw them in a dump yard to prevent them from being used by evil spirits or anyone who does black magic.
In medieval Europe, it was a common belief that period blood is capable of causing as well as curing the disease of leprosy. A lot of these superstitions are behavioral restrictions that, aside from being untrue, contribute to gender-based taboos and discrimination. These myths also make it harder for women to talk about their period – which leads to silence, shame, and misconception.
Most period myths are based on superstition and are not only incorrect, but also perpetuate gender-based discrimination and behavioral restrictions for women. These myths make it more difficult for individuals to talk about their periods or know whether their menstrual cycle is normal and healthy. In some cases, myths may even cause feelings of confusion and shame.
How Menstrual Taboos Are Putting Life At Risk?
What is life like when having your period puts your health at risk and means you are shunned by society? It is assumed that the risk of infection including sexually transmitted infection is higher than normal during menstruation because the blood coming out of the body creates a pathway for bacteria to travel back into the uterus. Menstrual stigma affects the emotional stability, mentality, lifestyle and most importantly health that must be taken care of in that duration.
Many women in villages are extremely rigid in exercising old traditionalist customs and end up using old clothes or ashes, dried leaves – which expose them to severe health issues. A case study in Nepal said the government has banned the custom of women living in separate huts during her periods due to a death that had occurred, but still, these practices continue because of a fear of being cursed or impeding the practice of traditional methods considered to cause harm to other family members.
Chhaupadi is one of the most severe and damaging examples. Some Hindu communities in Nepal believe that menstruating women bring bad luck, and banish girls and women to a chhaupadi – a menstruation hut. The age-old tradition of isolating girls in unheated menstruation huts was outlawed in Nepal in 2005, but the tradition persists not only in Nepal, but also in the Ethiopian highlands.
Chhaupadi exposes women and girls to extreme cold, animal attacks, and sexual violence. Women and girls have been known to die from extreme cold or animal attacks that took place while they were living in the menstruation hut. Other times, women and girls have reported experiencing sexual violence while living in the huts, away from family or community members whose presence might have discouraged the violence in the first place.
Menstruation taboos, child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and FGM are realities that taken alone harm individual girls. Taken together, these concepts reinforce gender inequality and perpetuate the idea that girls are less desirable, valuable, or capable than boys. Around the world, women and girls face isolation, shame, and danger because of misinformation and stigma around their periods.
Menstrual health should be an uncompromised piece of comprehensive sexuality education. Hygiene products must be affordable and available to ensure that girls are able to manage their periods with dignity. We”ll work to end harmful practices around the world by educating communities on the harms of child marriage and FGM and encouraging collective abandonment of the practices. Also we make sure to destigmatize periods and realize a world where every girl reaches her full potential.
Conclusion: Consequences of Stigma:
In many situations, it’s superstitions that are a prime cause of social stigma. Menstrual stigma can be put to an end if every individual stands against the myths and stigmas linked with menstruation that have been practiced for a long time. With education, awareness-building, donating or ensuring accessibility of menstrual products to rural areas (in parts where it is not accessible) will help in normalizing the concept of menstruation and help make this world a healthier and safer place.We need to educate teachers and parents on puberty and health, and provide them with skills-based knowledge to fight stigma and shame connected to menstruation.
Menstruation isn’t always just a “woman’s” issue. It’s a human issue. Help us change the narrative in the world. Let’s do our part to change this cycle and ditch the stigma. After all, periods and the balance of hormones are what help us stay young! We envision a world where a period does not create stress, shame or any unnecessary obstacles for girls and women. And so do we. Period.