‘Chaupadi’, a traditional custom followed across many parts of Nepal, separates women from their homes for 5 days of a month making them dwell in sheds with the cattle. Several Hindu households don’t allow women into kitchens or near prayer areas for a similar duration. Sanitary napkins are sold wrapped up in brown paper, hidden. And owing to the commercialisation of feminine hygiene, women in rural India resort to twigs, leaves, unsanitary cloth and grass to manage their periods. Even the mention of the word ‘period’ publicly in India is enough to make women uncomfortable and men cringe. Perhaps the biggest problem with the conversation around menstruation is that there isn’t one.
Only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins, for reasons ranging to lack of economic capabilities, limited access, orthodox customs and an overall lack of menstrual education. One of the leading causes of girls dropping out of school in rural parts of India is the lack of sanitary bathrooms. The list goes on, the cycle of shame is endless. The question still remains: Why does it exist?
Open dialogue in most traditional Indian or South East Asian homes surrounding topics of sex, menstrual cycles, masturbation and anatomy are usually hushed, swept under rugs and locked tightly behind large, heavy doors. In some cases, that silence can be traumatic: when a 12 year old girl in school is surprised with red blood down a pants, and she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. And in other cases, even fatal: when infections caused by a dirty cloth cause multi-system organ failure.
The problem, embedded in patriarchy, is complex, as complex as its resolution. Building toilets, NGO awareness programmes, sex education, all need to come together to end the cycle of shame. And the first step starts with open dialogue, out and proud: I get my periods and I’m going to talk about.
article written by : Rhea Almeida