Since time immemorial “Red” an established and most favoured colour of Indian society is considered with grace, vigor, love & rich. But for a woman of substance it’s the colour of life, coz it’s within her, in her body. But the moment it’s associated with woman, it became the colour of shame, impurity, untouchability because it’s flows through her vagina. When the red fluid comes through our body from any part; many helping hands comes forward to give us assistance, care, attention, treatment, love; but when it comes from an woman’s vagina she became untouchable.
Menstruation is a normal biological process that every woman goes through for a lifespan of 30 to 35 years almost for 3000 days. It’s a process for child bearing and signal of reproduction. But in our society it still considered as hidden, disadvantageous and associated with myths and taboos. It is culturally considered to be dirty and impure and hence surrounded by shame, secrecy, embarrassment, fear, humiliation, myths and stigma.
In patriarchal society, menstruating women are treated as impure, polluting hence are not allowed to take part in any religious set up and it’s a practice in almost all religions which ultimately restricts her mobility and limits their participation in different sphere. The culture of silence surrounded with the issue and stigma attached to it prevents women to access right kind of information on right time thus they have either wrong or distorted information till they experience and try understanding the process in their own way. In India 1 girl out of 2 does not have any information on menstruation prior to menarchy. Lack of information often helps in terms of spreading the myths and taboos than helping the folks to go for a hygienic practice.
Absence of knowledge and lack of support mechanism to practice menstruation in a safe and dignified way provokes young girls to drop their school almost 5 days in a month and appox 50 days in a year. Research says 23% girls leave their school after they attend puberty due to unavailability of proper infrastructure to maintain menstruation at school level.
The manifestation of taboos on menstruation goes viral in different cultures and areas. In Odisha, it’s contradictory in nature. A festival named “Rajo” celebrated for 3 days with a belief that mother earth starts menstruating during these days and now capable of producing crops. Because “Rajo” also signifies the arrival of first monsoon. So farmers and people in general celebrate mother earth’s puberty and allow the girls to enjoy, dance and play. On the other hand girls are also isolated and kept outside their house because they are considered as impure during their first menstruation. To the extent in tribal areas like Raygada and Kandhamal girls are left in Jungles during their menstrual days in day time and at night they are only allowed to sleep in verandas/outside house; but not inside. Another set of insidious rules are kept firm through the invocation of the wrath of a supreme being and the fear of unknown, like if you look at the male members of your family during the period they will be heaped with untold sufferings. And coincidence to happen or any incident can be twisted to fit in to a treacherous rule fixated by a gullible mind! This is how a simple girl was psychologically hounded for years just because her going out of house during menstruation was linked to her father’s death!
Myths attached to menstruation also affect women/girls health adversely. As menstruating woman is considered as impure, they are forced to drink cow dunk water after the end of their menstrual cycle to purify their body and then allowed to take part any religious work/worship to God; quoted by Lalita from Ganjam. Often women confront with infections and diseases due to unhygienic practices while using absorbents. In tribal pockets of Raygada district, the women use only two pieces of cloths to absorb their menstrual fluid in entire cycle days. While using one, the second piece they carry by hanging it on their waist and go to work. In between, they wash the used one; wherever possible in unhygienic manner and keep it hanging again in their waist assuming it will try automatically. In next turn they use that damp cloth dried over their waist. Hence, women used to have continuous fungal infections in their waist and vaginal area due to use of damp cloths having the bed of lakh of germs. It was also reported that a metal hook was found in the uterus of a woman who was using a torn garment as absorbents which might be hazardous. The absorbent cloths need to be smooth enough not to hurt the body parts in contact with it. It has to be cleaned properly with soap and need to be dried under sun and stored properly at a clean place. This is often observed that as a practice women and girls using cloths never wash it properly rather uses a dirty part of the ponds to wash it and dries it somewhere not in a commonly used place and ofcourse in hide that invites infections. Therefore, enough attention has to be given towards maintaining the cleanliness and hygiene of the absorbents.
The stories of such stigmas related to menstruation and violation of basic human rights of women goes endless unless there is attempt to break the taboos by discussing about the process as a natural one and establishing it as a pride of women than as shame. Conducive environment has to be built in where a girl/woman can speak about her problems and manage her menstruation in a safe and dignified manner.
The Global Menstrual Day is getting observed on 28th May of every year across the globe by many countries. The day is decided as an usual cycle of menstruation is 28 days and thus 28th date signifies that and the cycle is usually for five days and hence the 5th month (May) of the year. The significance of the observation is popularizing the rights of women and girls on health and menstrual hygiene which is not a spoken subject. Also making it popular so as to discourse on the topic without any inhibition.