“Oh no! Why did you visit the mother with her newborn child in your impure state! Now they will surely become ill. Shame on you!”
“Stay away from the kitchen and the temple, you are impure. And why would you eat meat and fruit? They have just made you more impure. Shame!”
“Did you just discuss the whereabouts of your periods with men? You should’ve just lied and said you are ill! Shame on you!”
Shame, shame, shame.
Menstruation- a natural process that occurs to around 50% of the world population, has been treated as a taboo subject because of the culture of shame and misinformation surrounding it. Many menstruators do not understand why they have their periods, and what exactly to do during. At this point, many see it as anything but a natural process- they’ll say it’s a curse, a risk from evil spirits, something that makes menstruators capable of polluting and destroying, and many other misleading, false beliefs arising from cultural beliefs and a lack of education that makes it hard for people who menstruate to know what course of action to take to stay healthy and also sets them back in the fight against gender inequality.
Menstruation is not a curse, it is a natural process and actually a positive event, because it indicates that a person is healthy, fertile and well-fed. For most menstruators, it occurs once a month. Every month the uterus produces a new lining, rich in blood, which will protect and feed the egg if it is fertilized. If the egg is not fertilized, this lining is no longer needed and is discharged. A menstrual period marks the beginning of a new monthly cycle and the formation of a new egg. That’s all it is, a natural part of the menstrual cycle. It is a normal and natural flow that is not because of a “curse”, as many in rural, as well as urban, areas of Bangladesh, have been led to believe.
Hence, it cannot “harm” anyone interacting with the menstruator, cannot harm anything they touch, cannot “taint” anything. These myths arise because assumptions on periods are made from cultural beliefs, misconceptions arising from generations of misogyny, and a lack of awareness about what goes on in a menstruators’ body; because people feel ashamed to talk about it.
The taboo surrounding menstruation holds back people who menstruate from achieving social, economic, political and physical empowerment. They have restrictions placed on them that interfere with day-to-day tasks such as cooking, showering, work, going out, attending social and religious events, and much more. They have to hide and feel ashamed for their body’s natural process, which leads to a low self-image. Menstruating women have been raised to hide their periods from men as it is shameful to talk about such a topic, and are hence deprived of support from their family and society. This makes them feel too shy to ask male family members to buy sanitary products for them and to purchase these products from male shopkeepers. Even school teachers refuse to teach these topics in class in many parts of Bangladesh and ask students to read it at home, which further propagates the culture of shame, as well as the misconceptions many menstruators have regarding their own bodies and about what to do on their periods, since they are not properly made aware of the course of action to be taken.
The culture forcing menstruators to hide their period from non-menstruators, especially in rural areas of Bangladesh, leads to problems aplenty. One major problem is that of having to hide menstrual rags since they are considered harmful and shameful. They are sometimes washed in river water without soap and dried indoors in a hidden corner. They are left to dry and store in damp and dark conditions which encourage bacterial growth and, occasionally, infestation with insects. Repeatedly using these rags leads to rashes, reproductive tract infections and other health problems that are often not treated. Rags should not be used repeatedly, and they should be washed with tube well water and soap, then dried in the sun and stored in clean plastic bags.
Myths may also intensify the complications that many menstruators already face, such as physical discomfort, cramps and tiredness. The myth that meat, fish, eggs, and certain vegetables will make them more “impure”, makes this worse. Imposing restrictions on food leads to malnutrition at a time when it is important to consume nutritious foods. These restrictions, along with others related to work and education (such as a lack of mobility) often lead to bad performance, poor health and a low self-image.
Menstruation is a positive event that shows that the menstruating person is healthy. It is imperative that both menstruators and non-menstruators be educated in this matter to dispel the myths and misunderstanding that lead to it being a taboo subject and hence hold menstruators back. The only evil spirit menstruators and non-menstruators are at risk from is the stigma surrounding the issue of a normal process that occurs to about half of the population.
Project funded by EMK Center