It all started in middle school when we were having our first workshop on puberty and menstruation, where boys and girls formed two separate lines and walked dutifully to different classrooms, both rows reduced to hushed whispers and scrunched up faces. Before the workshop even started the verdict had been delivered by our group of sixth-graders; this was a topic that was not to be broached. At that time, puberty and in relation menstruation was a foreign country to us, one looked at with disgust and contempt, and this division did not help in alleviating our misconceptions. This whole ordeal about menstruation stuck with my peers and me for years to come, because it made us conclude that menstruation was not something we were supposed to talk about, not with each other and especially not with boys. It made clear what was considered acceptable and talking about menstruation or even puberty was not on the list. Unfortunately, this ideology was reinforced constantly by teachers, peers, and parents alike. It has always been customary to hide pads in black plastic bags at home so that no one, especially no man, notices that you are menstruating. This stigma was made evident when our biology teacher in eighth grade stumbled and stuttered through our lesson on reproduction facing difficulty in teaching the CBSE-approved version of menstruation to a group of pre-teens.It was understood that telling someone about menstruation would make you a social pariah, a person who no longer fit in our social order. And this lack of transparency manifested itself in an abundantly clear manner when a boy in our class looked at a pad in a first aid kit during home economics and asked why the teacher had put diapers in the box.
This stigma towards menstruation is not new to our society. A study found that 71% of girls in India 5 report having no knowledge of menstruation before their first period (Dasra, 2014). It is an entrenched ideology that has plagued us for several hundred years. Menstruation is framed to be vile and wrong, a punishment for past wrongdoings of women. Thus, boys and men across the world are exempted from conversations about menstruation, and oftentimes women and menstruators themselves aren’t allowed to enquire about their own bodies. This knowledge gap is not a harmless occurrence, it is because of this menstruators fall ill due to a lack of proper hygiene, why they feel ashamed buying essential products and thus forego doing so during their cycle, why sometimes these essentials are not even treated as such and are instead called luxury items causing menstruators from lower socio-economic backgrounds to not have access to products they sorely need. Infact, 70% of women in India say their family cannot afford to buy sanitary pads (AIF, 2014). But why is this so? Wouldn’t the world be a better place to live in if men too understood women’s need for clean and sanitary resources to live a healthy life? The answer is hidden in gender inequality. Due to the power structures that are ubiquitous to our society, women or menstruators do not have the voice to speak up about their needs and their attempts at change often go unnoticed. Men have the advantage of holding a large percentage of positions in political and policy making sectors which gives them the upper hand in the implementation of laws and policies that determine the lives of millions. As per data compiled by Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of 2018 only with 11.8 percent parliamentarians in India. This skewered power dynamic paired with the lack of knowledge the people in power have about menstruation due to the taboos that are set in place is the reason why many menstruators continue to suffer. Because of this we are stuck in a feedback loop of the men in power perpetuating taboos which are learned by newer generations and then reiterated when they mature.
The only way to move forward from this Russian Doll of entrenched inequalities is to open a dialogue with the people around us about menstruation and the needs of those who do menstruate.It is only through the collaboration between the genders that any change will be made. Fathers, sons, brothers and husbands that are present in one’s life should know about the process that is the harbinger of life.We should discuss why we feel that this process that brings about life is one that brings so much shame to us. Reading up on the different aspects of menstruation is another way to spread information. If people know the biological reason for its occurrence they would garner that it is not in fact a religious curse but just the body’s way of cleansing itself. Through the process of discussion the buying of menstrual products should also be destigmatized. Men should understand that the act of buying menstrual products for the menstruators around them is akin to buying bandages when someone is injured, it is not emasculation but a simple purchase of a product for someone in need. Apart from having conversations it is important that government bodies have menstrual advisors when it comes to issues regarding menstrual hygiene and supplies.It is only under the counsel of people who actually menstruate that real change can occur around us. If the conversations about menstruation reach the government level, policies safeguarding menstruators giving them the proper supplies in an affordable manner and having a change in curriculum when it comes to teaching students about the same, may actually occur. To make this vision a reality it is more than essential to understand your own stigmas and to be open to new ideologies, so we can all finally understand the fundamental process of menstruation.