Whose shame is it anyway?

Whose shame is it anyway?

Whose shame is it anyway?

The culture of silence is only making things worse, as menstrual taboos are being propagated, unquestioned asserts Aditi Gupta.

According to a study by Ipsos Research - among 1105 women and 202 men, in June 2014, across 10 cities in India - 85 percent adolescent girls in urban and semi-urban India follow various restrictive customs (some strange, while others downright bizarre) arising out of menstrual taboos.

Brace yourself and find a discreet corner to read this because what I’m going to discuss has been on top of the taboo ladder in Indian society and still is.

Somehow, more Indians are now comfortable discussing sex, but menstruation still remains among the dark cobwebs of our minds. Years of social conditioning and believing in menstrual myths had left me considering myself ‘impure’ during my periods.

Living in a small town where everyone knew everyone else, I would not purchase sanitary napkins out of embarrassment. Instead I would use rags, which would remain wet all the time, making me believe that I was a heavy bleeder.

I would not have tomatoes during those days because I came to believe that anything sour would increase the flow. I had my first periods in Class 7, while the textbooks only spoke of it in Class 9; though the teacher would conveniently skip the subject. At home, it was an untold rule to never discuss the topic.

For an educated girl, I had very low self-esteem for no apparent reason, and this was taking a toll on every aspect of my personal growth. My realisation soon got me determined to spread awareness about menstruation and bust the myths surrounding it. The taboo-busting journey led me to a number of schools across cities and semi-urban towns.

My key finding was that in the absence of prior knowledge about the subject, when girls begin menstruating, they instantly assume there is something terribly wrong with them and that they’re on the cusp of contracting a terminal disease! Worse, their teachers would deal with this subject bluntly, without addressing its practical aspects.

As for parents, it was no surprise that they were hesitant to talk  about it. Educated mothers in semi-urban areas too were shy about the subject and expected the schools to do the needful.

Conversations with a cross-section of women brought to light myths that made me cringe, and sometimes got me downright depressed. It is a common practice to not let menstruating girls go to temples or touch the holy tulsi plant, flower buds or even a jar of pickle. But the real shocker was to know things like many girls being told not go swimming during periods because they would get pregnant! And if men would come to know about a girl on her period, they would rape her.

Even worse was when a lady, working in an IT company, told me that we must not bathe during periods for the fear of water going in our ovaries, making them swell. Little surprise then, that we are living amidst a generation of men oblivious to the subject. To expect them to be sensitive to a woman’s needs is unreasonable.

The widespread restricting customs are degrading the self-esteem of millions of girls every year, while making them susceptible to unhygienic menstrual practices and putting them at high risk of reproductive tract infections.

The prevailing culture of silence is only making things worse, as menstrual taboos are being propagated, unquestioned, from one generation to the next.

(The writer is the founder, Menstrupedia.com)