By Lubna AR
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
The first ever menstrual hygiene day, founded by WASH United, just passed on May 28 and it was a success in its own respect. The day was created to raise awareness about the issues surrounding poor menstrual hygiene management in developing countries,including India, and to focus efforts to ensure that every girl has access to hygienic options to manage her menstrual cycle in “privacy, safety and dignity.” (Menstrual Hygiene Day Website)
I recently heard about this initiative and my first, raw reaction was, “why on earth does that need its own day?” But don’t judge me. This reaction, probably one shared by many, is a result of a society where tampons and pads are disguised as chocolates, where men—husbands, boyfriends, fathers and brothers are embarrassed to run to the store to purchase a box of tampons for the women in their lives and where a tampon falling out of a purse in a public place is the cause for embarrassment. This initiative and my reaction really made me think about this; why are we so embarrassed about a healthy bodily function which is essentially part of a system which creates human life? Why are we ashamed of something that is so natural?
According to many feminist such as Tomi-Ann Roberts, this stems from a patriarchal society which does not tolerate any stains on the image of a woman who should be pristine at all times. Other scholars feel that this stigma stems from religious practices that view woman on their menstrual periods as unclean or impure. Whatever the case may be, whether we realize it or not, this socially constructed stigma is causing real problems for women and girls around the world.
While in countries of the West, it may result in a small embarrassing situation at the drugstore cash out,in countries such as India, the taboo associated with periods causes much more serious problems. Not only does it affect access to hygienic methods of management, but it hinders access to education and to human rights for girls. According to a recent report from the organization, Water for People; often in rural areas, a combination of the unavailability of sanitary pads, lack of safe bathrooms for girls and the fear of being teased or shamed cause some girls to miss four to five days of school a month. (Dwijadas Sarkar, Water for People) Further, in some Indian cultures woman on their periods are treated as untouchable and are shunned from daily activities. Women are being denied the human right to dignity and equality because of something that is inherent to them, something that is a natural part of a healthy body. The logic behind the stigma is falling through, and it’s time for every single one of us to take this seriously.It’s time to open the discussion.
So why does Menstrual Hygiene Management deserve its own day? Because even accepting that the menstrual cycle is a source of embarrassment may cause us to neglect serious issues that need to be addressed. Breaking the taboo is one of the first steps in the right direction, starting from each and everyone one of our experiences with menstrual cycles, whether it be through our own lived experiences or through someone we love and care about, boys this includes you. Many of the initiatives working for this cause stress that this is not just a “girl issue”. Educating men and boys about menstrual health helps remove myths and helps create a healthier environment for girls, which will eventually benefit everyone.
Realizing that the negative ideas about this natural process that we may be perpetuating only add to a bigger problem is half the solution. The other half, which many different individuals and organizations, like WASH United, are dealing with, include distributing sanitary pads, educating girls and boys on puberty and advocating for safe, clean bathrooms for girl schools everywhere.
We can all be part of the solution in our everyday lives by ensuring that we do not give in to the idea that we should be ashamed of who we are and by being brave enough to not perpetuate the stigma. So be willing to open the discussion to those who don’t realize the implications of it; be willing to challenge and question those who say that this natural process is impure or dirty, and lastly; be willing to purchase tampons and sanitary pads as confidently as you would toilet paper.
By accepting some of the responsibility and changing our ways, we are able to build a better world for today and tomorrow.
Lubna is a recent graduate in Environmental Politics and is very passionate about making a difference in the world through her writing and example. She strongly believe that in order to create change in society there is a need to appeal to the general public and influence the minds and hearts of people and one of the best ways to do this is through media. Favourite quote: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.