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Stigma around Menstruation: Deep-Rooted Menstruation Taboos and Their Effects

This is a series of posts in partnership with for National Period Day.

Menstruation is a largely known topic of taboo and extreme shame in the society we’re living in. Growing up in Bangladesh, I saw women actively avoid the subject due to the socio-cultural aspects of the country. When I first had my period, I was told not to discuss anything related to menstruation in front of my father and brother as well. The more I become familiar with the fact, I started questioning the sense of public shame about menstruating whereas it’s been an indispensable part of every woman.

Period shaming is a real thing in societies here which needs to be normalized necessarily to break this age-old practiced social taboo. Let’s consider the capital of Bangladesh,“Dhaka." Despite the fact that Dhaka has a greater number of educated people, we still see censorship around the topic. So you can imagine how much harder it is for women living in rural areas to open up themselves.

Also, there’s a religious viewpoint which is associated with the concept of period-shaming. In some of the countries, menstruating women are viewed as impure and befouled and are often restricted from participating in the daily activities at the time of the month. Some of the misconceptions stem from the points include:

  • Women are to remain within their homes while they’re on their period days.

  • Women are not allowed to go to holy spaces like the temple or mosque.

  • In some regions, girls are even told that things will get spoiled if they touch them while they’re on their periods.

  • In Tanzania, it is believed that the owner of the menstrual cloth will be cursed if it is seen by others (HOUSE et al., 2012).

  • In an Indian film named "Padman," girls are not allowed to step out of a separate place fixed for their living and even are restricted to get slightly touched by their husbands while they are menstruating.

A few years back when I was part of a global campaign as a youth advocate named "Every Last Child," I interviewed an adolescent girl living in a slum of Dhaka city. She shared the difficulties women and girls go through during that time of the month for not having separate toilets in the slum. They’re strictly told to hide away any kind of thing used while being on period as it’s considered a disgraceful and forbidden matter.

In fact, when I asked what kind of material she uses during her period, she said she usually uses rags which she cleans by only washing and reusing later. Although it’s better to dry them properly under the sun, they’re not allowed to do so because the slum they live in has seven to nine families around it. As a result, they have to use either the damp clothes, unwashed rags or bury them in the ground. That’s the story of almost all the females around any slum and rural areas in Bangladesh where the sanitation system isn’t up to mark.

According to Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014, nearly 89% of menstruating girls and women use old cloths or rags during their monthly period instead of a sanitary napkin or pad and only 33% of urban adult women out of 78.4 million women use disposable pads because because they can’t afford them.

In fact, majority of the girls living in rural areas aren’t familiar with different options such as tampons or menstrual cup other than pads. Notwithstanding the possible health risks following the use of unsanitary materials, women continue carrying on such practices since olden times due to the lack of information within their reach.

Having that said, it’s also a matter of concern to mold the thinking of wider society about this biological process that naturally happens in a female body and most importantly, a significant part of women’s reproductive system. Not only girls but boys should also be included while discussing over this natural phenomena girls have to encounter in their adolescence.

Since menstruation is a topic that hardly anyone wants to openly talk about and strictly confined within, boys of an early age comprehend this as a matter of embarrassment for girls. Thus they’re mostly seen giggling about period whenever they see any girl bleeding which I think is an issue to ponder.

Even in such a modern era, girls still feel shy to open up about their period and this can only be changed if we try to solve this from a new dimension. Incorporating boys into the awareness programs would help to disseminate knowledge and thus break the taboo as well. Boys should also be aware of the facts in such a way that should be decent and sensitive.

Bangladesh has achieved a couple of milestones with regards to raising awareness of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), although the country has a long way to go in terms of normalizing menstruation. Some successful local initiatives include Project Konna by the Bandhu Foundation which aims to maintain menstrual hygiene of the underprivileged adolescent girls, a social business venture ‘Sokhipad’ that sells pads at the most affordable price, Astha foundation that focuses on normalizing and awareness of menstruation, menstrual hygiene and PMS, Kotha and Naripokkho foundation.

All of these focus on disseminating the knowledge of managing menstrual hygiene and break the social stigma related to menstruation. More organizations like these are highly needed to make a wave of positive change and transform the age-old practiced stigmas, misunderstandings and misconceptions that are associated with menstruation.

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