In today’s progressive times, menstruation, and sexual health and hygiene, are still not as widely discussed as they should be, especially in countries with low literacy rates. The subjects carry a lot of stigma and taboos, particularly in rural areas in India. These beliefs commonly stem from misinterpreted religious beliefs. They can spread false information and create other issues such as an imposition of restrictions and rules by the community upon a menstruators lifestyle. Another such problem is the lack of awareness around non-binary and transgender male menstruators and women who are unable to menstruate due to infertility. All these issues impact menstruators negatively, whether that means worsening mental and emotional health or causing adolescent girls to drop out when they reach their menarche.
In many parts of the world, menstruation is still known as ‘dirty and impure’, even though this lacks any scientific reasoning. Many such beliefs perpetuate this ideology. A prominent one, existing in India since the Vedic times, is that menstrual blood is a manifestation of Indra’s guilt (God of the Sky) for killing a Brahman (a Hindu priest), creating a negative association with menstruation.
Another harmful belief is that menstrual blood is dangerous and can allow a woman to impose her will on a man. Due to the solid patriarchal structure prevalent everywhere, this belief prevents women from entering sacred places/puja rooms. Even though there is no scientific evidence to back up this fact, such flawed information spreads rapidly, especially among rural communities.
In many cases, menstruators associate their own body with ‘dirt and impurity’, as they know no better, which can have implications on their mental health. Girls in certain villages even drop out of school after getting their period out of the fear of being ostracised by the community and the lack of facilities.
In most families, a mother is heavily relied on to guide an adolescent through puberty. Still, these topics are considered so personal that it is considered vulgar to even speak about them, labelling them ‘forbidden’ issues. Adolescent girls are left behind with unanswered questions and doubts, causing them to further perpetuate the passing on of these socio-cultural taboos and beliefs. The root of the issue is the false narrative assigned to menstruation and sex, notions looked at through a negative lens. Growing up with limited knowledge leads to ill-informed decisions regarding one’s menstrual and sexual health.
Another global problem is the exclusion of non-binary and transgender male menstruators. Young children who identify as anything other than cisgender females are excluded from the education about such topics, leaving them in the dark about various biological processes, mainly because schools only focus this education on girls. The students are separated based on their assumed gender for these sessions, so while the girls may have information on these topics as preteens, menstruators of other genders may not have access to the same. This extreme ignorance is even reflected in government campaigns and initiatives that only provide support to women. Retail is also a concern as period products like pads and tampons are often flagrantly marketed as “for women” or as “feminine hygiene products”. Although this does not stop menstruators of other genders from purchasing these products, it preserves the notion that all menstruators are women, ingraining it in a customer’s mind and making this mindset a systemic issue.
Unsafe health practices, like using contaminated or dirty material when managing menstrual blood, are among the numerous issues arising from lack of education. They can lead to both physical and mental health issues starting from vaginal infections to sexually transmitted diseases or gender dysmorphia.
To avoid such problems in the future, the government must mandate education on menstrual and sexual health and hygiene for all students across the nation. This should also be taught as early as possible to inform all students about the gender-neutral biological process, as well as how to manage it.
Rural villages facing these problems need to receive adequate aid and supplies to promote hygiene. Provision of pads and workshops on how to use them as well as medical facilities to treat infections and diseases must be provided by the government. Along with this, it’s equally important for people of all ages to be included in order to cut off the generational transfer of stigmas.
Whether it’s the fact that menstrual and sexual health and hygiene are deeply stigmatised in many communities, or the exclusion of certain groups of menstruators, all these issues have severe ramifications on the menstruators themselves. Proper education and immediate government intervention is the only way to eradicate such challenges and make space for well-informed individuals. It’s crucial for every person of every background to be more aware of the issues faced by menstruators so we can work towards a more knowledgeable and inclusive community.
Article by Tara Karni Devi Bajaj
Featured Artwork by Sanvee Jatia
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