Break the Silence: Unearth Menstrual Wisdom
Menstruation is critical for the continuation of life on earth. Despite this being a natural process, it causes a severe hindrance in the growth and development of women and girls in our patriarchal society. Young girls are often told to discuss their periods related issues only with older girls or women, forming the impression that menstruation is exclusively a females issue and it’s a matter of shame; hence one should only whisper about it and never ever discuss it with men.
Project Concern International (PCI) recently explored different aspects of women and girls’ lives, including their menstrual health practices, in Jharkhand, India. Our interactions informed majority of the mothers do not undertake any conversation on menstruation with their adolescent daughters. Girls learn it in their own way. Girls primarily receive information from their peers and other unreliable sources. There is a lack of opportunity to discuss menstruation-related issues at home, and the adolescent girls continue to carry the myths, taboos and feeling of disgrace, restrictions around periods. The silence around menstruation and women’s tendency to continue the traditional practices without questioning them in an unfavourable environment deep-roots the issues. Of course, positive deviants are always there; but no one openly supports them. Our survey in the same area informs that 32% of girls never attend school when they are menstruating due to shame, infrastructural issues in schools and overall discomfort. This act as a hindrance to their self-esteem, performance in class and career aspirations. We found that 88 per cent of women believe that they discharge dirty blood during menstruation which cleanses the body, and 80 per cent of women think a girl should not attend religious function while menstruating as they are considered impure during that cycle of the month. This all confirms the age-old tradition we see around.
The question lies – how long will it take to get rid of the stigma and disgrace attached to it? When will we all question openly why a natural process is a matter of silence and shame?
In partnership with Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), PCI is capacitating women in collectives to break the silence around menstruation and bring a shift in norms. Women and girls together need to make attempts for their right to health. Umang project attempts to empower women to have the right communication with daughters and other family members to support normative shifts towards the empowerment of women and girls. Menstruation, a sign of fertility and good health, must be normalised and rejoiced!
- Community-based communication that menstruation is natural and it is essential to attend to women and girls’ needs of the menstrual hygiene management.
- Enable mothers to lead the conversation with daughters on menstruation and remove the myths and stigma attached to it.
- Mothers to encourage daughters not to miss their schools or schedules of learning or employment during periods.
- Create awareness around menstrual irregularities during adolescence to avoid any reproductive health complications in adult life.
Written by: Ankita Kashish – Program Manager, Umang, PCI, India and Sushmita Mukherjee – Director Gender and Adolescent Girls, PCI, India