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Puja Sarkar
Date of Publish: 2017-06-17

Breaking the Taboo. Breaking silence

 

Menstruation is widely considered as a topic of taboo and open discussion on this topic by the society is hardly possible. Menstruation is a part of a women which is known to everyone but still nobody is ready to open up. In Assam, a ritual called “Tuloni Biya” is performed to celebrate attainment of womanhood status of a girl. When any girl attains puberty and starts to menstruate, this biya (marriage) is celebrated. This marriage is celebrated in the same way as a real wedding. The main motive behind this ritualistic wedding, celebrated a few days after the girl has her first menstruation, is to teach girls about the female sexuality and reproduction cycle. But during this period the girl is not allowed to go out, she is not allowed to see the Sun, the Moon, cows or any man even her father or brother. She has to live alone and she is not allowed to eat normal food. She has to take foods without oil, salt, milk etc. Even in some parts of Assam girls are not allowed to bath also, they can bath on their fourth day. And on her seventh day they celebrate her menstruation as marriage that having periods is good thing.

Photo courtesy : Archana Borthakur

However, from the second period onwards this good thing becomes bad. Girls are treated as outcast, they are refused a comfortable place to sit or sleep. During these days women or girls are considered as impure, contaminated and dirty. Periods shaming us the gateway to the extreme forms of discrimination that millions of girls have to experience. Any discussion about menstruation will almost certainly include the words “taboo,” “stigma” or “silence.” In poor and richer countries; in all sorts of family backgrounds and cultural contexts, one truth is usually universal: women and girls are supposed to cope with menstruation silently and invisibly. They are not supposed to talk about it outside.

Photo courtesy : Archana Borthakur

This is the cause of various health issues of women. People have a very wrong perception about menstruation. They consider it as impure blood but which is not. The awareness about menstruation problem is very lack because people are not comfortable to talk about it. Even mothers and daughters may not talk openly or easily about menstruation. Every month more than 350 million women and girls in India are ashamed, uncomfortable and often unsafe as they try to hide the fact that they are menstruating while also managing this in a way that no one will know. Why do they do this? Because the schools they study in, the spaces they play or relax in, the markets, farms and offices they work in do not design facilities with this simple and recurrent biological need in mind. Why is that? Because menstruation is a taboo handed down over time to be dealt with privately by women and girls and not shared in public. They do not have the access to clean and safe sanitary products, nor to a clean and private space in which to change menstrual cloths or pads, nor to a private space in which to wash. Therefore, they tend to keep silent and neglect.

Photo courtesy : Archana Borthakur

The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) believes that ignoring the menstrual hygiene needs of a woman is a violation of her rights. Breaking the taboo starts with the right to information and knowledge and the ability of women and girls to talk freely about menstruation. It extends to practical dimensions such as privacy, water for washing clothes, spaces for drying and dignified disposal of used materials wherever girls and women, play, study, work or relax. Breaking the taboo also means creating alternative spaces for women and girls to discuss menstruation freely. WSSCC contributes to this process by facilitating innovative learning and sharing platforms that enable women, young and old to understand and respond to the practical needs around menstrual hygiene management and facilitate a girl’s journey from silence and shame to confidence and pride. So that every girl can understand that this is not the issue of shame, this is the issue of concern on her body.

Puja Sarkar

( Puja Sarkar is an independent journalist. She has done M.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism from Tezpur University )

 

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