Cultural Practices Around Menstruation

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Posted August 3, 2016 from India

I was 9 years old when I started my menstrual cycle. My mom had a ‘talk’ with me one day. She told me I would see some blood in my panty and that it’s normal and I don’t need to worry. It will happen every month. I would need to use a pad and when it happened she would show me. That was our only talk on menstruation. Soon after that ‘Aunt Flo’ came and would show up at my door promptly every month. I remember, the 1st time it happened, mom made me skip school, it was my day off. I guess she wanted to monitor and see how I felt. I was only in grade 3; too young to understand why it was happening to me when all of my friends didn’t experience it till almost a year later.

Growing up in India ‘periods’ was a topic never openly discussed at home. I learnt about it briefly in my biology class but that was all the ‘education’ I received. What I do remember were horrible cramps the first two days of my cycle and being heavily dependent on pain medicines to get me through the days. Some days I would lie down screaming on the floor with menstrual cramps. My mom was always there to help and take care of me.

As I grew older, along with my periods came a sense of embarrassment and an urgency to hide the experience. As if it was my fault that I was bleeding and I had to make sure others didn’t know about it. Those 5 days were my secret days, I had to act like something secretive was happening to me and I had to hide it from my father or brother. Don’t let them know. Use code language like “I am on my cycle”, “It’s that time of the month”. The pharmacist across the road would wrap my pads in brown paper and then in black polythene before giving it to me. I felt like I was buying drugs from him and we had to keep it all under cover. My grandmother and aunt believed that girls (and women) must not visit the temple when on their periods. I was repeatedly told not to enter the ‘puja’ room when on my cycle. A custom I would love breaking. I would secretly step into the tiny room at home while on my periods just to see how ‘God’ would react. Trust me he didn’t mind it.

In a recent twitter discussion (#sayftychat) organized by Sayfty, women shared various cultural practices they grew up with around periods. Some common themes that emerged across the board were that periods are considered impure and women are made to feel ‘dirty’ when on their menstrual cycle. Silence hounds the topic and most people (specially girls) are uncomfortable discussing it in public.

In Swaziland, if a woman is on her periods she is not allowed to do household chores, like cooking, washing dishes and is suppose to keep a distance from the kitchen. She is considered as someone who is ‘dirty’. Girls on their periods are punished and not allowed to play with other kids. They are expected to stay at home. The elderly women of the house instill fear and sadness in them.

In some parts of Nepal (mostly rural) girls are banished to sheds during their periods. Most sheds have thatched roofs and some have walls but in some cases, that’s missing too. It’s a traumatic experience for girls to be banished to these so called “sheds’’ while on their periods. While one would expect that it’s usually the men who would ostracize women during their periods, it’s actually the grandmothers who enforce such rules in Nepal. In fact they have a national holiday so that women can wash themselves of menstruation sins.

In countries like India and Pakistan, everything and everybody is hush-hush around menstruation. One must keep it a secret. Hide it from the male members. It starts from wrapping sanitary pads in brown paper bags to preventing women from entering places of worship. In fact it is such a big taboo in Pakistan that one of our Pakistani male participants discussing menstruation during the twitter chat received an SMS chiding him for talking about this subject publicly on Twitter. The community frowns upon it. Ironically, there is deep-rooted global shaming around menstruation in every country at different levels, even in developed countries like UK and the US. In some Indian houses, girls and women on periods are not allowed to visit the temple, touch pickles, tulsi and in some cases their kids and husband.

While there are not many menstruation-positive cultural practices, in some Punjabi culture, it’s absolutely normal to have your periods and read the Guru Granth Sahib. In a temple in Assam, menstruating goddess Kamakhya devi is worshipped and considered auspicious, thereby signifying that it’s not the religion that brings the shame, it’s the culture. The younger generation has started challenging tradition. Some menstruation-positive cultural practices could include providing education before menarche. This will help break the taboo and develop healthy habits.

Currently there exist no formal or informal rituals around the start of menstruation. A big hug, chocolates, pads and sharing own stories and period education would be a great way to bring attention to the subject and eliminate fear and embarrassment. Periods need to be normalized and the only way to do it by talking more about it. A casual sit down chat about it by moms and educators would be a great place to start. Regardless of gender, we should talk to our kids about the concept of menstruation. Provide them the necessary education to remove the stigma associated with it. What better day than today to get this conversation started and take a step towards breaking the taboo.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 26

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karimi
Aug 03, 2016
Aug 03, 2016

Sayfty, thank you for sharing your story. Puberty is a critical age for every lady. Unfortunately many ladies around the world have undergone painful experiences due to the sigma and negative cultural practices. But thats not the end of the road. And as you say , lets get this conversation started to end the taboo around mensturation. I am doing some work around mensturation  empowering young girls about puberty.

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

Karimi, unfortunately that's the sad reality in many countries. Do tell me more about the work you day around menstruation. How can we help each other and break the taboo around menstruation?

karimi
Aug 05, 2016
Aug 05, 2016

Thankyou Sayfty , my friend Wendy of health4hire https://www.health4hire.com/ has authored an Amazing series entitled Puberty the Wonder years http://www.pubertycurriculum.com/. I will be happy to link you up with her as she is now a member of WorldPulse

health4hire
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

What a wonderful article on the cultural taboos around menstruation! Thank you for sharing your story, Sayfty, and for insights into cultural practices around the globe. I agree with you that is would be beneficial and healthy to have more discussion about a normal bodily function that all girls and women experience. I meet hundreds of people who have told me about the fear, mystery, and shame they experienced when they began menstruating. My mission is to educate all young people about the changes they will experience in puberty. I hope we can make progress in eliminating these types of cultural practices and replace them with the celebratory ones you suggest. Thank you, Wendy

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

Wendy, thank you for taking out the time to read this article and provide your comment. Would love to hear more about the work you do with children. It's surprising that such an important issue which is so normal has been made into a taboo topic. How can I connect with you? 

health4hire
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

Hi Sayfty,

I can be reached at Wendy.Sellers@PubertyCurriculum.com or UGH-PUBERTY.  ;-)  Please visit my website at www.PubertyCurriculum.com to learn more about my work, and then we can connect again! I'm looking forward to it.

Wendy

karimi
Aug 05, 2016
Aug 05, 2016

Thankyou Sayfty , my friend Wendy of health4hire https://www.health4hire.com/ has authored an Amazing series entitled Puberty the Wonder years http://www.pubertycurriculum.com/. I will be happy to link you up with her as she is now a member of WorldPulse

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 05, 2016
Aug 05, 2016

Karim yes we are in touch. Thank you so much for sharing. 

Adahmbah
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Hello Ladies,

Greetings to All and thanks very much Sayfty for breaking the silence about menstruation and sharing with us some cultural impacts about huddles women and girls go through during menstruation. I have being empowering young girls in schools and community in Cameroon on menstruation for the past three years.We have being collecting pad donations and we have donating pads to help over 650 underprivileged girls in rural communities during menstruation.We are now helping girls to be able to make their eco free pads by providing assistance in the training.Again we realized that many young girls have reading disability in the rural communities and which makes it difficult for them to read.We have provide some space for reading classes in our office and we developing a library  but we need more books to help them.Two Language teachers have accepted to volunteer break the silence through education.I hope we can be able to share our views and get more young girls interested and engaged to break the silence and cultural taboos surrounding menstruation.

https://www.facebook.com/motherofhopecameroon/

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sanitary-pads-campaign-for-underprivi...

Thanks

Adah Mbah

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 26, 2016
Aug 26, 2016

Adah would love to connect and learn more about your work!

Adahmbah
Sep 10, 2016
Sep 10, 2016

Hello Sayfty,

It will be a great pleasure for me to also connect with you.

You could check on our work and connect with me through the following links

https://www.keepandshare.com/doc11/12007/the-conversation-continues-in-s...

https://motherofhopecameroon.wordpress.com/about/

https://www.facebook.com/motherofhopecameroon/

 http://menstrualhygieneday.or/.../MHDay2015_FULLREPORT.pdf

http://motherofhopecameroon.webs.com

or better still you could send me an email motherofhopecameroon@gmail.com

Thanks

Adah Mbah

Founder/Executive Director

Mother of Hope Cameroon-Mohcam

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Sep 13, 2016
Sep 13, 2016

Thank you will email you!

Adahmbah
Sep 14, 2016
Sep 14, 2016

Ok Dear i will be waiting.

Thanks

Adah

Kadidia Doumbia
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Dear Sayfty,

You made a precise summary of the realities for most women everywhere in the world.

I had the same experience you had, menstruation at 9 years old, one talk with my mother and my aunt, that was it.

The society needs to stop making this physical and natural moment something to hide. Women themselves need to take ownership of their body and the fact that without menstruation we can give birth. Let's accept our body and then strive to be accepted without shame for who we are.

Thank you so much for your testimony. 

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Dear Kadidia,  Thank you my friend for sharing your experience. You are absolutely right in saying that the society needs to stop making menstruation a taboo topic. It's by openly talking about it, can we make this normal. So thank you once again for speaking up and sharing your personal experience - Shruti 

Kadidia Doumbia
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Thank you.

Keep us informed, this is a topic of interest to me. 

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 19, 2016
Aug 19, 2016

Will def. do. Anything in particular that you would want to discuss further on this topic?

Courtney Randolph
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

I love this post. I have long been trying to team up with a non profit called SHE with no luck through email. I would like to help with sustainable solutions for women. I want to use my travels for passion and purpose.

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 19, 2016
Aug 19, 2016

Pynk, can you please email me at shruti@sayfty.com. Thanks!

Tamara Kubacki
Aug 12, 2016
Aug 12, 2016

Sayfty,

Thank you for sharing these stories. You are right that talking about periods needs to be normalized, not only to help erase the stigma, but to improve women's health. If we are uncomfortable talking about our periods, we may not notice when something is wrong. It starts with learning to talk about healthy periods, so we can feel like we understand our bodies and begin to treat them kindly.

Best of luck in your very important mission.

Tamara

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 19, 2016
Aug 19, 2016

Tamara, so agree. Thanks for echoing the sentiment. Do you have any personal period story to share?

Kadidia Doumbia
Aug 20, 2016
Aug 20, 2016

I will interest in knowing and understanding how women of diverse communities cope with this subject, to tell the true, is rarely addressed.

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Aug 26, 2016
Aug 26, 2016

Kadidia, would love to connect with you and discuss more.

Kadidia Doumbia
Aug 29, 2016
Aug 29, 2016

Certainly.

I am available to discuss and exchange ideas.

Dr. Shruti kapoor
Sep 13, 2016
Sep 13, 2016

Where can I email you? 

Kadidia Doumbia
Sep 16, 2016
Sep 16, 2016

Here is my email: kadidiadoumbia@yahoo.com