Of Blood, Stains and Sanitary Pads- Period Shaming in India
Mensuration or the periods are a natural phenomenon that takes place in every woman’s life. It is a sign of fertility and that the body functions are healthy. While mensuration is a life generating beautiful phenomenon in a woman’s life for which she ought to feel happy, proud and secure. Yet period shaming in today’s world is taking toll on the lives of women.
The problem of period shaming in India
Though period shaming is an age old malpractice not only in India but throughout the world, it has taken wider forms in today’s world. The word period is often associated with shame, embarrassment and disgust often leading to period shaming as a big problem of mental stress and trauma for females. The subject of periods is such a taboo that often channels playing advertisements of sanitary pads are changed in households. Sanitary pads are usually hidden under piles of clothing in the cupboards.
Boys are never educated about periods nor are they told about the effects of period shaming and the stress associated with it. Our dream of an equal world where women are equally respected, stands shattered when they are not even honored for their life producing crucial events like periods.
In an ancient country like India, period shaming is an age old practice. Here are some of the stigmas that you all might have experienced in your growing up phase.
- Women are treated untouchables for the five days of their lives. Women and girls are made to sleep on floor or cots outside the house as a part of period shaming in India.
- In most households, women are barred from entering the kitchens as part of the period shaming. The pickles are considered more sacred than the bleeding women whose shadow could even turn the pickles into moulds.
- Women are not allowed to enter temples or participate in any process related to worshipping as they are considered impure.
- The stigmas associated with period shaming are endless. From not being allowed to participate in various physical activities to consider themselves inferior and weak, are all but a part of period shaming. Staining is considered dirty and girls are laughed at as part of period shaming.
Period shaming in India at its peak
According to a survey by Times of India, girls in the age group of 12-18 years miss their school for five days (average) in a month 1 due to improper menstrual sanitation. Many of the girls even drop out of their school once they reach menarche.
A 13 year old girl from Chennai committed suicide in August 2017 after she had to bear period shaming by her teacher, in front of the entire class 2. The girl was period shamed due to her stained dress and was offered a duster cloth in substitute of a sanitary napkin. Insensitivity at its height. Period shaming was at its worst during this incidence.
Root of the problem and the solution
Period shaming is a problem that needs to be handled at grass root levels. Yes, you got me right. You, I and all other girls and women out there in the world can end the stigma attached to period shaming. We women are a creative force that can bring about changes in the society by educating our kids in the correct manner on any issue, including period shaming. Mothers need to educate first their daughters on the process of mensuration in the correct light so as to bring about an end to the period shaming in the world.
Mothers, teach your girls that it’s not dirty, weak, embarrassing and humiliating to have your periods. It’s an absolutely amazing life creating process to be proud of. Menarche (the age of beginning of mensuration) is in itself a stressful time for a girl, when their bodies try to adapt to the various hormonal changes. On top of it, girls have to manage all the hormonal, physical changes with periods along with the stress and the regular school and study routine.
It is the role of mother to handle and gear the girls smoothly to the process of womanhood. Make them feel special and like princess for periods take them to the next level of their lives.
And then mommies, please educate your sons also about periods that girls experience. Tell them, sanitary pads are nothing to be ashamed of and why exactly they are required. Men need to be sensitized over the issue of period shaming and there is no one better than a woman doing so.
At the second level, the problem of period shaming needs to be handled in schools too. Sex education and period information is shared separately with the boys and girls. We need to educate them together on the subject and glorifying the periods in a manner that it is beautiful for girls to start their periods.
Boys and young men too need to be educated about the cramps and mood swings along with PCOD issues to give them a better understanding of periods and its effects on females. Young students including boys need to be made aware of periods as a mark of femininity and fertility. They should be taught about period shaming as a mark of disrespect towards women. Period stains need to be treated in the same manner as coffee or tomato sauce stains.
Media too has an active role to play on the issue of period shaming. Movies like Padman starring Akshay Kumar are an eye opener addressing the issue of mensuration and period shaming, but a mere drop in the ocean.
I spoke to a number of friends and colleagues on the issue of period shaming and here are the experts that I found out.
- An open declaration by a friend experiencing period made Dr Charles Arputharaj Joshua realize the fact and stress that women go through. “That day it sunk in that women get work done, provide for families, participate in games and take part in work that requires great physical strength and win medals in Olympics too, all the while bearing the discomfort with a smile and inner strength, I knew I would find difficult to fathom. And I am sure, most educated men with a heart, would never even think for a moment to shame the women” says Dr Charles, an MBBS from Chennai.
- Smitha Sindhu, Manager (Program and Project Services) at Fujitsu India Pvt Ltd, says that she often felt embarrassed going to the medical shop to buy sanitary pads and did not visit holy places during her younger days as she was forbidden. But now two decades later she says” I carry my sanitary pads openly sans the black polythene or paper cover. I enjoy my pickles and visit the temple any day of the month I want”
- While Pragati Srivastava, Additional Director (Economic Affairs and Research) FICCI, Delhi, states that period shaming in India is due to lack of proper sex education. Period shamers are either unaware about it or are behaving the way society has ingrained the issue in them. Pragati further elaborates, “Even informing someone that her dress is stained, has to be done in whispers – not because I want to avoid shaming her but because I am not sure if she will be comfortable accepting it openly. Unless we all change, I can’t expect the stigma of period shaming withering away.”
- Shweta Maheshwari, English teacher at Sharda Global School, Ranchi often faced the stigma of period shaming during her growing up years when she had to wait at the medical shop to grow less crowded to order her sanitary pads. She is vocal on the issue of period shaming and states,”I do not hesitate in buying the sanitary pads in front of a crowd and I try to educate and sensitize my students on the cons of period shaming.”
The above analysis on the 80’s generation clearly depicts a shift in the attitude towards period shaming in India. The solution to the problem of period shaming lays in education, rather sex education.
Advice and a guide
There are several initiatives being launched to curb the problem of period shaming in India, at various levels including caricatures and haikus on social media. Digital campaigns to spread awareness among the masses and to educate them over the issue of period shaming are being launched. More than that, we women ourselves will have to take initiatives in spreading the message that period shaming will not be tolerated. Given below are a few guidelines to handle period shaming at our own level.
- Spread the word that women feel happy to bleed. Talk about periods with friends, peers, students, colleagues and employers in a normal, manner. Honest and open conversation is the key to handle period shaming.
- Educate yourself on the process of mensuration and spread the word. Do not feel ashamed of your periods and do not try to hide it under different pseudonyms. Be open and educate others on the significance of periods.
- Treat blood stains like any other stains of coffee or tomato sauce. Have courage to laugh on them and clean up and change. Send the message that stains are nothing to be ashamed of.
- Last but not the least, counter any period shaming attack boldly by talking on the topic and sending a straight message to the offender that period shaming is not acceptable.