Periods are both a boon and a bane for womankind. While they do disrupt everyday lives and cause some inconvenience, they are an important aspect of reproductive health. Most of the women on our planet go through menstruation, yet it is spoken of in whispers like it is some shady business. In school corridors and offices you see women hiding pads in papers as if it’s some illegal thing they are taking to the bathroom; a woman asking for ‘that’ in chemist shops being given parcels wrapped in black polythene as if she is smuggling drugs instead of buying pads. If periods are such a common thing then why are they treated like a pariah? It is a normal biological event that occurs every month for majority of women. Yet it is hardly acknowledged when it comes to resources for sanitation. It is only recently that movies like Padman have been made. But still we are shrouded in myths and stereotypes.
Menstruation is not something ‘dirty’ or unhygienic. It is not something to hide, it’s a natural phenomenon. And it does have varying degree of effects for different women. Some women experience intense pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) which includes uterine cramps, body ache, fatigue, cold sweats, mood swings, etc. on the other hand, there are women who are not subject to such symptoms. But to most women, it causes a certain amount of discomfort that should be acknowledged within the household and professional sphere instead of being frowned upon. When women behave in a slightly irritated way or seem annoyed, they are often asked the question “are you on your period?” and it is mostly men asking such questions. To me this, this is somewhat offensive. To presume that women can only display angst because they are bleeding, or periods automatically entail aggressive behavior is a sexist stereotype that undermines women.
Talking about stereotypes, our society is full taboos when it comes to women’s monthly cycles. Don’t pray, don’t cook, don’t do this…the list is unless. Menstruation is natural, and what is natural cannot be impure or unholy. So all religious customs that debar menstruating women are nothing more than patriarchy disguised as culture. The Sabrimala Temple issue blew up into a massive controversy, and finally the temple authorities had to yield to women demanding their right to be treated at par with men. I bet if men had periods, the issue would be openly discussed instead of being looked at with disgust. Our unwillingness to acknowledge this has put many women’s health and self-respect at risk. Do you know how many women use unhygienic cloths during periods because the men refuse to go and buy pads for them, and they face stigma and discomfort when they go and encounter mostly male chemists? Do you know how many girls drop out of schools at the onset of menstruation because they have not had proper sex education? A natural phenomenon stigmatized in our society to this point that women are deprived of basic rights and health due to it!
And it is not just villages, stigma is everywhere. Twitter had removed a photo that showed a woman with period stains, while she was just trying to normalize what is actually normal and start a conversation about the issue. We educated people never teach our boys to be sensitive and knowing, instead expect our girls to manage through the trauma and stigma over and over again. It is time we openly talk about this issue, acknowledge that periods exist and there is nothing abnormal or secretive about them. We need to make spaces comfortable enough for women so that they can speak up about the real reason as to why they cannot go swimming or have to go to the washroom or are unable to come to work, instead of making tedious excuses like being sick. The brother should be told why his sister is in pain, the husband should know that periods, while a trying time, are nothing disgusting, instead call for him supporting the wife. This is for both men and women to create spaces safe for everyone and educate and destigmatize everyone.