The Menstrual Stigma Problem

Have you ever wondered why seldom girls and women avoid going for a swim? Or why they skip physical education sessions in school? Or hesitate to perform any physical activities such as jumping and dancing? The little things one may notice in a female, such as the occasional stomach ache and body pains, happen because she is on her period and her body is bleeding out.

Menstruation is a body guest that visits every month. It is as natural as other bodily functions and there is nothing about it that makes it strange. It is the solitary way women have the blessing to give birth to another life. And what is purer than that? Despite this, countless studies indicate that a particular section of the world's population finds it embarrassing or revolting to talk about. Not just men, but women alike feel abashed about something that their bodies go through every month. Nevertheless, the enigma encircling minds today is, why? Why the shame? Why the lack of acceptance? All the above boils down to the notion of how society perceives women while they menstruate.

The inability to correctly address menstruation leads to women not receiving the help they require. Women from various countries worldwide use scrap cloth, ashes, and wood to hinder their bleeding. However, the fear of bleeding out forces many to, for example, skip work, school and avoid moving about. Another cause for concern is the inadequacy of sex education. Seeing as the young, unaware, uneducated and underprivileged are oblivious of what happens after a girl begins her periods, unwanted pregnancies or the transfer of STDs is highly likely. Though for now, let us understand what the aforementioned stigma is and what influences it has on societies around the world.

In a country like India where women are regarded as Laxmi (Goddess), the one who brings prosperity and wealth to the family is seen as impure when on her period. She is kept from performing specific rituals and offering prayer in temples. Moreover, in certain parts of the country, they are retained in an out-house during their time of the month with the tenet that her living at home will make it impure. This belief breathes because one cannot make God live in an unclean space because he is as pure as the driven snow, further establishing societies indisputable hypocrisy. However, it is unfortunate that it does not cease there. Women walking into pharmacies in rural India requesting sanitary napkins are gawked at, and these sanitary napkins are either handed over covered in newspaper or black polythene, to hide its contents. This behaviour explicates just how stigmatic people consider periods to be.

Another example is the United States of America. It is a nation no less conservative with its ideologies concerning menstruation. In fact, it is a country that fixes a ‘luxury tax’ on products used for maintaining sanitation during periods. What does this display? Using sanitary napkins and other hygiene products is a luxury. But is it though? When each female from her early teens to late fifties requires it at least once every month, it becomes a necessity. So how does this become a luxury item? The idea of luxury behind these products only heightens the stigma around periods. Women have to give up on daily living and use items they are not supposed to use to help support the bleeding. Additionally, underprivileged women have to pick between satisfying hunger or buying sanitary towels, and selecting either leads to a compromise on their health and well-being.

If this is the condition of America, a first world country, visualise the state of women in developing countries like Africa who do not have the resources to provide women with the basic necessities. In countries like Kenya, over a million girls miss school because they lack the resources they need during such times, and see it as being shameful if someone looks at a bloodstain. Albeit foundations like ZanaAfrica distributing free pads, they are too scarce in number. Frequently, girls end up wearing pads for longer than they should, further leading to health concerns. But what makes these developing countries more backwards? Is the idea of America implying a luxury tax on these products furthering the stigmatic idea?

Seeing as this is how developed, underdeveloped, and developing nations see menstruation, there is no variation in how stigmatic people around the globe see periods. To eliminate the taboo, we require to begin addressing the stain. Girls should be provided workshops so they do not panic when they have their periods for the first time. Furthermore, boys should have seminars to encourage them in normalizing the idea of the same. This can be a gradual step to removing the stigma, which will lead to younger generations being more sensitive and speaking up about menstruation. Other than this individualistic step, governments should recognise these issues and help put a restraint on traditions that make women feel inferior. Lastly, they should market these products at more affordable rates. This way we can begin putting a close to the distress a woman has to face while she is on her period, further supporting her to lead a regular healthy life.

The idea of this solution comes from Scotland and how they identified the concern within their community and did not believe in jeopardizing women’s lives anymore. Thus, they came up with the resolution of giving women what they need, free of cost. That way no woman suffers from health issues because she did not have the resources to keep herself sanitized during her periods.

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