The endless cycle of discriminating at women during their period is fueled by ignorance, religious intolerance and gender inequality. A normal, natural, completely biological human process is feared and reviled and women are forced to bear the brunt of this ignorance. It would be unfair to lay the blame squarely on men for propagating these archaic customs, women too, play a role is spreading the ignorance, punishing anyone who questions these practices and restricting any open dialogue and conversation regarding menstruation and women’s health.
In Nepal for example, the practice of Chhaupadi, though banned by their Supreme Court in 2005, is still rampantly practiced. At its essence, is the notion that women are inherently impure more so during the days of their periods. While this thought isn’t peculiar to only the citizens of Nepal, the practice of segregating women and young girls is especially ghastly. Forced to remain outdoors during the entire length of their menstrual cycle, irrespective of the weather forecast, women are also not allowed to enter their household for fear of bringing down the Goddess’s curse on their home and family. Additional other restrictions include not touching a man, not touching a cow and not touching any fruit trees. If they do, the tree will stop producing fruit, the cow will stop producing milk and the man will fall ill. Prohibited from bathing during their cycle, women are forced to live in the unsanitary condition of a hut especially made for them. In areas where there is small population, the need for multiple Chhaupadi huts diminishes and in its stead, one measly, small, dingy hut is erected. In almost all cases, if there is more than one menstruating woman at a time, alternate arrangements must be made. Girls often sleep on the ground, in fear of men and snakes. The threat of sexual assault is ever present for women in these huts as men conveniently forget the supposed ‘uncleanliness’ of a woman and prey on her while she is far from home with absolutely no protection.
Another widely celebrate practice in Nepal is the festival of Rishi Panchami. Generally celebrated in the month of August, the festival is the time for women to atone for any sins they may have committed during menstruation. By praying to the rishis and by observing ritualistic fasting, they ensure their families blessings and prosperity as well as long life for every member. The reason the festival came about, as the story goes, is because of the sinfulness of a woman called Jayshree who instead of observing the restrictions placed on her during menstruation by her religion, rebelled and ate everything she was not supposed, touched and spoke to everyone during her cycle. Due to this great sin, she and her husband were cursed and reborn as animals in her son’s house.
While it is tempting to think that such practices and customs are prevalent in only ‘backward’ and ‘rural’ areas of the world, the truth is women of every class, age, martial states and geographic locations suffer from embarrassment, fear, shame and lack of knowledge when it comes to discussing the taboos, myths, practices and religious customs imposed on them during their period.
Take for example a study recently conducted in Bangalore, India, by Whisper and IPSOS.
- 91% urban women residing in Bangalore do not wash their hair during periods*
- 68% urban women from Bangalore don’t water the plants during their periods*
- 65% urban women from South India don’t go outside during their periods*
- 58% of urban women from the southern states of India do not touch pickle during their periods
- 60% of Women across South India agree that it’s embarrassing to watch sanitary napkins commercials while watching TV with family
Across the world, women face similar opposition to mix or socialize with the community during their menstruation cycle. In Tanzania for example, it is a common belief that if your menstrual cloth is seen by others, there is a possibility that you could bring down a curse upon yourself. On similar lines, women in some parts of Bangladesh, India and Nepal bury their menstrual cloth to dissuade evil spirits from using them for harmful purposes. Other communities believe that menstrual blood is powerful and women can use this to influence and impose her will on male members.