In the many sessions that we have done on Menstrual Hygiene, the one thing which we always and consciously did not bring up is the cultural and religious practices associated with it. Every individual has the right to follow a set of traditions and procedures which have been in place from time immemorial. And its absolutely fine if it makes them happy to do so.
But there are some questions which are difficult to answer.
How do you explain to a young girl that the reason she is excluded from prayers during festivals or prevented from visiting a religious place if she’s having her period, has nothing to do with her bring impure or unholy? How do you make them understand that though this practice has no relevance in today’s times, we can’t stop doing it?
It is not uncommon, even in this day and age for menstruating women to be kept “aside” until her period is over. It is not uncommon that she is excluded from sharing a plate or a meal with the rest of the family. It is not strange that we have come across women who are made to live in a cowshed during this entire time. And this isn’t just about a rural women who is not educated. In case of educated women, the cowshed becomes an outhouse.
That’s the only difference.
During our sessions, we do try and explain the original reason why it all began, which was to make sure that women get enough rest during her period, and doesn’t have to worry about house hold work or any other tiring task. We do try and tell girls that it certainly doesn’t mean that they are impure or unholy, it just an old tradition which nobody has attempted to change.
While all this can still be brushed aside if its really important on some religious or cultural level, how do you justify it when women end up compromising their health just to keep up with tradition?
So often, we have been asked by many adolescent girls and young women about the “period postponing pill”. We were quite surprised the first time we heard these questions, more from rural girls than from girls in urban schools. We wondered how they even know about such a pill. And many of them even know the name, the dosage, etc. These pills are very common in villages and girls keeping popping pill after pill to delay their period, without consulting a doctor.
The reason? Festivals and ceremonies happen very frequently especially in villages. On one hand, menstruating girls feel very left out that they can’t participate in a family event, and on the other hand they find it extremely embarrassing to proclaim the reason why they can’t attend the event. Thanks to the saving pill, they end up confusing their natural biological processes resulting in heavy and painful bleeding during the delayed period.
We have asked so many women why they wouldn’t speak up. For some, its fear to speak against an elderly person, for some its superstition, for some its respect for an age old tradition. Even those women who are educated do not speak up. By nature and by upbringing, women have been taught to be respectful, to be obedient, to think of others before themselves. Well, they’re doing a good job at it. The only small hitch is that they are compromising on their health in the process.