SAFEGUARDING THE ‘STREE’: FROM THE STIGMA AROUND MENSTRUATION
By- Antra Azad, 3rd Year Student at Chanakya National Law University, Patna
In the growing age of cosmos and sciences, women body still remains a vulnerable structure for men and the associated taboos remain at peak. The natural clause that comes along with the gender is also made associated with the society guidelines which we are expected to follow without questioning the rationality of it. One such mystery is menstruation which is known to all but we pretend to keep it a little secret among women.
Menstruation, or period, is regular vaginal bleeding that takes place as a part of a woman's monthly cycle. This process makes a woman ready to bring the next generation into life. It also stands as an indicator for a woman to know if she is pregnant or not and helps to keep a check on her health. But the question remains that how could a regular body function be a matter of shame for the whole gender.
Period poverty is a broader issue than one of the economies. Because of entrenched stigma and taboos related to it, girls remain unaware of this big change that is about to come in their adolescence until menarche. No discussion is made either in their family or school but soon when the arrival of the first menstruation is marked, girls are levied with the dos and don'ts list without being asked about the mental health they are suffering from due to this big change in their life. A whole list of restrictions is imposed during this period and their involvement in the household is minimized because they are thought to be impure enough to be a part of it. Religion also comes up with its own rules of curtailments where the entry of women in the worship place is strictly prohibited because apparently they are impure to be a part and such practices are encouraged through the sacred books of different religions.
“go apart from women during the monthly course, do not approach them until they are clean" Quran 2:222
The Bible quotes
"…in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean… whoever touches…shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening" Leviticus 15
All of these social disorders can be traced down to backsliding cultural ethnicities that have deep-rooted patriarchal biases against women. Studies have also shown that male perspectives towards menstruation have enabled these myths and misconceptions to make a strong grip in this society. To normalize the idea of women bleeding every month education regardless of gender becomes very important. Men still get disgusted when they see a stain on the dress. Maybe to avoid men getting triggered Indian advertisement is still stuck in the era where they depict stains in the colour blue so that the advertisement could be family-friendly to watch but they fail to understand that these are the small steps to cure taboo around.
Menstruation is one of the few reasons which compel a girl to put a bar to her education. In one of the surveys by the NGO Dasra, 23% of girls drop out of schools with the onset of menstruation. The prime reason for this is the lack of hygiene facilities in the school or the fear of ostracisation around. We need to make the society which is menstrual friendly with making pads easily available and create logical awareness about it.
This euphemism that carries around with this regular cycle is affecting the gender in various ways. One of the biggest hits is on their health because the young girls are unaware of what is to be done and what needs to be avoided during this period and this unawareness, as a result, carries along with the generation which in turn becomes the vicious cycle of taboos. Lack of awareness about the hygiene that ought to be maintained instead of the poverty, ignorance, and unavailability of menstruation products force them to use rags and leaves which could possibly contribute to urogenital inflectional disease which could be grave in nature. Not just physical trauma, menstruation contributes to mental illness as well. Hormonal change is witnessed during this period which leads to mental-emotional breakdown termed as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) to which stereotype and stigma could easily add up to their bad mental health.
The government should focus on providing basic amenities to girls to cope up with this monthly routine. This would address the issue from disease associated with menstruation to increase the literacy rate among women. At first, the Supreme Court made an attempt in the case of Environmental and Consumer Protect Fund v. Delhi Administration & Ors, where sanitization was brought up and the order was passed to improve sanitization and building up separate washrooms for girls. Asserting the importance of the same, the Court made the following observation which showed concern about the deteriorating statistics of girls imparting education due to unavailability of toilet facilities which violative of the right to free and compulsory education of children as guaranteed under Article 21-A of the Constitution. Invoking Article 21 obligated the schools to build compulsory toilets. Lack of the availability of menstrual hygiene or disgracing women for something like menstruation which she has no control over which directly attacks the dignity of humans enables the issue to reserve its place under article 21.
The government launched a Menstrual Hygiene Scheme in the year 2011 intending to provide napkins at the subsidized rate but is not a success due to ignorance, high cost, and lack of knowledge. While from the side of the government the irregular supply of the pad has made the whole scheme futile. Similarly, under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, the government allows subsidy to provide facilities like proper separate washroom and providing sanitary napkins both in school and girls hostel but the contention remains regarding the implementation of the scheme because every scheme seems fancy enough until it is on paper but in reality, the existence of the whole structure lacks in.
Adolescent girls need the backing of their governments to arrange for adequate infrastructure, access to affordable sanitary products, and gender equity for them to manage their periods. It is high time that we understand that Menstruation is a human issue and not only a women's issue. Equally important it is to understand that it concerns hygiene and is not a purity issue.
Environmental and Consumer Protect Fund v. Delhi Administration & Ors (2010) 15 SCC 261
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)