How is the hush-hush trend harming our girls, who anyway have a difficult time dealing with biological anxieties around menstruation and the societal taboos associated with it?
Story of a girl
“When I was in 8th grade, every Wednesday in K.V (central government school of India) we wore white suit and pajama for P.T day. During the 9th period, while sitting in the class, my Hindi sir called me up at the board to test my Hindi spellings. The moment I got up the whole class fell silent and I could hear giggles, I turned around to see what was happening and my classmates along with my teacher just burst into laughter. After I sat back in my place, to my horror I found out that my white suit was stained with blood.
This was the first time I had my periods and whatever I knew about periods was from T.V commercials and my then 13-year-old friends who themselves did not know much. The boys kept laughing at me and kept passing comments and the girls just kept staring in horror.
Even my Hindi teacher made a comment. I was too embarrassed to back to the school next day, and I ended up missing school for a month when I finally begged my father to let me change my school,” recalls Sneha*, now a 23-year-old law student.
“Period shaming is real, the hush-hush around menstruation has turned something as normal as periods into something so taboo that even most mothers don’t know how to talk to their daughters about it,” she adds.
In August 2017, a 13-year-old girl in Chennai, the capital of India’s southern state Tamil Nadu, reportedly committed suicide after a female teacher period-shamed her in front of her class. The teacher at Joseph Matriculation School allegedly scolded the girl after she revealed a period stain on her clothing and told her to leave the classroom.
Instead of giving the girl a sanitary pad, the teacher reportedly handed her a dust cloth. “The teacher did not take into account that there were boys in the class,” the girl’s mother told the News Minute in an interview.
Women in several parts of India are still discouraged to spend money on sanitary napkins as they believe, old rags, paper and leaves are should be used for something as “dirty” as menstruation. Women are kept in isolation, prohibited from entering kitchen and temples as they are “impure” if they are bleeding.
“Since menstruation is not a choice, neither should education about it be, says Nirmala Nair of the WASH United initiative.
Ministry of Health about girls dropping out
According to a survey conducted by Ministry of Health, “23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of menstrual hygiene.” Lack of functional toilets in school and lack of accessibility and affordability being the main issue. However, the root cause is the lack of awareness about female reproductive health and menstruation. The only way India can fight the stigma around menstruation and period shamming is through education.
Nair is a changemaker who is running a campaign on making education on menstrual hygiene compulsory in schools. Her campaign in asking the Ministry of HRD to make menstrual hygiene education compulsory. “Girls start their period without knowing what is happening to them and it affects their confidence. There needs to be a systemic approach to include this into the curriculum so girls know what is happening to them is absolutely normal,” she says.
According to Ms Nair just having an open conversation and awareness around menstruation can help build girls’ confidence. As she puts it, “replace the stigma and silence around menstruation with conversation and confidence. We can build an India where every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without stigma and can ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period moreover can build a world where they have no more Limits.”
Nirmala’s ask is to go beyond just distributing pads as a token gesture and talk about things that would help a girl feel comfortable. Because a girl who can manage her periods safely, hygienically, with dignity and without stigma is a girl who is more confident.