Some curl up on their beds with heater pads.
Some pop in pills like candy.
Somewhere, in another part of the world, little girls think they are “injured”. Worse still, some are sure that it is cancer.
While most of us have been taught about, or at least are informed by our mothers or sisters about puberty and menstruation, many suffer in silence and ignorance.
In many households, especially in countries like Nepal, India, Afghanistan and Iran,experiencing periods is viewed as a frightening experience. The “embarrassment” regarding periods is a major cause of hesitation amongst women, which might affect their daughters’ health.
The stigma isn’t prevalent for no reason. These are a set of hand-me-down myths and misconceptions which a female child is made to believe because her ancestors had believed in it. Some bizarre myths often heard are: “Don’t touch the food, it will go rotten”, “You are impure during menstruation”, “You will defile everything you touch”.
I also read an account of a girl who believed her nail polish had spoiled because she applied it during her period.
The condition in India, especially in some rural areas, is so bad that girls and women care little about personal hygiene, let alone menstrual hygiene. A survey says that 23% of girls in India dropout of school, the major reason being inaccessibility to clean toilets. They choose to stay at home, and eventually end up getting married early.
The high cost of sanitary pads is a primary cause of low menstrual hygiene, since women resort to cheap alternatives like cloth, which are reusable, but very unhygienic (only 12% women in India use sanitary napkins). Some also reportedly use newspaper, sand or straw. The germs in the reused cloth might result in serious infections. Further, reports say indigenous girls in Australia steal sanitary napkins and bunk school during periods.
To make it worse, we have advertisements which ask us to bleed blue and keep it all a hush-hush affair. This, instead of encouraging girls and women to talk about their period freely, forces them to keep it to themselves.
Being a single father just increases the problems. Girls can choose to talk to their aunts or sisters instead, if they are uncomfortable. Being silent will never help.
It is sad how a perfectly normal phenomenon, which has been occurring over ages as an indication of physiological maturity, normal body functioning and a sign of fertility is stigmatized and depicted as a curse rather than a natural cycle of hormones churning inside the body.
As Rose George (a marathon runner) rightly says in an article, “Period may hurt, but not talking about menstruation hurts more.” While one might experience bloating, excruciating pain and nausea, the thought of being buried under ignorance is far painful.
We need to take inspiration from women who accept their body, their cycles wholeheartedly and take pride in who they are. Kiran Gandhi, a Los Angeles based musician, sensed that she was going to get her period while she was running a marathon. Yet, instead of using a pad or a tampon she chose to run, letting her menstrual blood flow free.
To make personal and period hygiene accessible and affordable, the government can distribute napkins for free, or at least at a nominal cost, to females in rural areas. Constructing and maintaining lavatories in schools will go a long way to support girl education, which will, in turn, improve their quality of life and the generations to come.
Instead of hiding your napkins in your handbags and concealing them at the bottom of your shopping cart, remember that menstruation is a normal phase in a woman’s life. Embrace it.