If you’re a girl, have you ever been a victim or witness of stereotypical notions about menstruation? Have you ever been shushed to speak about periods (don’t say it loudly) openly? Have you ever been given seemingly illogical advice on how to walk, talk, bathe or breathe during periods? If yes, you aren’t alone.
According to a 2016 study titled, “Menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls in India involving about 1 Lakh girls in India, nearly 50,000 girls didn’t know about menstruation until they got their periods”. Additionally, as per an international survey in 2016, there are over 5,000 slang terms and euphemisms for the term ‘periods’. This indicates how reluctant we all are to treat menstruation as a biologically healthy phenomenon and how shushed an affair it is kept to be, wrapped in black plastic bags from time immemorial.
With this self-imposed silence come myths and misconceptions that have led generations of women to be a victim of exclusionary norms without any questioning. A lot of these norms are behavioral restrictions that, aside from preventing us to talk about periods, also impact our emotional state, mentality, lifestyle, and most importantly, health.
It’s time to take up the reins in our hands and set straight some menstrual myths. Period!
Here are some myths that need to be busted immediately:
1. Menstruating women are dirty & impure
Culturally, in many parts of India, menstruation is still believed to be impure and dirty, and so are menstruating women. Further, they’re prohibited from entering sacred places and touching holy books which isn’t only a form of gender inequality but also a violation of human rights like freedom to practice religion. It doesn’t end here, they’re also restricted from performing tasks of daily routine and are, in certain cases, forced to live in isolation.
However, it is scientifically known that menstruation is the result of ovulation followed by a missed chance of pregnancy that leads to bleeding from endometrial vessels and is followed by preparation of the next cycle. Therefore, it is not only illogical but also ignorant to believe in this myth.
2. Association with evil spirits, shame & embarrassment
In some cultures, women bury clothes used during menstruation to prevent them from being used by evil spirits. It is believed that a malignant person can cause harm to a menstruating woman because menstrual blood is dangerous. Also, women are advised to keep the used pads unseen and apart from other trash otherwise it could lead to cancer. However, there seems to be no logical or scientific explanation for these beliefs.
3. Restrictions on dietary practices & physical exercise
Women are also advised to follow a strict diet during menstruation and abstain from doing any physical exercise. As far as exercise is concerned, many studies in India and across the world have proved exercise to be efficient in subsiding menstrual pain alongside making one feel energized and better.
4. Prohibition from bathing
Menstruating women are not allowed to wash their hair or bathe during periods which is completely contradictory to what obstetricians or gynaecologists advise to do. Not bathing is not only unhygienic but may also lead to reproductive infections.
5. Period blood is dirty blood
Unlike the widely believed notion, period blood isn’t dirty blood. It isn’t rejected body fluids or toxins but simply vaginal secretion that contains blood, uterine tissue, mucus lining, and bacteria. It is, however, different from the blood that flows through our veins in the way that it’s less concentrated and has fewer blood cells than ordinary blood.
6. Menstrual pain is like a headache
Menstrual pain or dysmenorrhea isn’t like anything we experience usually. Around 20% of women have dysmenorrhea which is severe enough to affect their ability to concentrate, make them more anxious and also, unpleasant on a monthly basis. The pain is bearable but not talking about it openly and bearing a wide grin when cramp monsters are ripping your uterus off your fallopian tubes seriously affects our mental health.
So next time if you see your female relative or acquaintance behaving like an irrational weepy angry hungry monster, don’t ask why.
7. Personal issue
Menstruation isn’t an issue to be shrouded in secrecy. In 2014, United Nations declared that menstrual hygiene is a public health issue and a humanitarian crisis, which wouldn’t be there if we stop treating it as a dirty, gross, and shameful process.
Many women across the world don’t have consistent access to adequate menstrual hygiene products. According to National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, only 36% (which came down to 15% during lockdown last year) women use sanitary pads in India while others turn to unhygienic alternatives such as old cloth, rags, hay, sand, or ash (you read it right).
While sanitary pads are hygienic than the above-mentioned alternatives but these are not disposable and have an adverse impact on the environment due to the huge amounts of plastic they contain.
Enactus JMI helps to eliminate this issue through Project Shrimati wherein women produce eco-friendly reusable sanitary pads which are then sold at an affordable price range in order to encourage the use of eco-friendly sanitary pads and reduce sanitary waste disposal.
If we continue to avoid talking about menstruation, we would not only perpetuate these myths but also wouldn’t do our bit in eliminating this rightly called humanitarian crisis.
Involving male members of the family in the dialogue around menstruation and clearing their beliefs can also go a long way in eliminating the deeply rooted misconceptions related to menstruation and cultural taboos. Men and boys know little about it due to which it becomes equally important for them to understand menstruation so that they can help and support their female relatives and acquaintances.
Again, to all menstrual buddies, having your periods is a completely and biologically normal phenomenon. Rather than being ashamed of it, feel proud of what your body is capable of. If being curled up in your bed and binge-watching rom-coms or scrolling through your mobile phone the entire day is your thing, do it. Just do what makes you happy!