Breaking Menstrual Taboos on Menstrual Hygiene Day

By Maria Debbarma

28th May, 2024

Menstrual Hygiene Day, observed annually on May 28, serves as a global platform to raise awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and to break the taboos surrounding menstruation. This day aims to empower women and girls by promoting access to menstrual products, education, and sanitation facilities. By celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day, we can advocate for better menstrual health and gender equality, fostering an environment where every woman can manage her menstruation with dignity. The day was initiated by the German-based NGO WASH United in 2014. The date, May 28, symbolizes the average menstrual cycle (28 days) and the average duration of menstruation (5 days). The day is significant for several reasons:

  • Awareness: It brings global attention to the challenges women and girls face in managing menstruation.
  • Advocacy: It advocates for policy changes and resource allocation to improve menstrual health.
  • Empowerment: It empowers women and girls by addressing menstruation openly and without stigma.

Menstrual hygiene is a critical but often neglected aspect of women’s health, particularly in rural India, and Tipra is not indifferent. Despite the natural occurrence of menstruation, it remains shrouded in myths, taboos, and cultural stigmas that hinder the proper management of menstrual hygiene. This article delves into the importance of menstrual hygiene, the current state of awareness, and the prevalent myths and taboos in rural Tipra, aiming to shed light on the steps needed to improve the situation.

Importance of Menstrual Health

Menstrual hygiene is vital for several reasons such as health, education, dignity and social inclusion, and economic productivity. Maintaining good menstrual hygiene helps prevent infections such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), reproductive tract infections (RTIs), and other menstrual-related health issues. Girls who have access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities are more likely to attend school during their periods, reducing absenteeism and dropout rates. Managing menstruation with dignity is essential for the self-esteem and social inclusion of women and girls. It enables them to participate fully in daily activities without embarrassment or fear. Women who can manage their menstruation effectively are less likely to miss work, thereby contributing more consistently to the economy.

Awareness and Education

Awareness about menstrual hygiene among rural indigenous people of Tipra is often limited due to several factors:

  • Lack of Comprehensive Education: Many indigenous girls in rural villages receive inadequate education about menstruation before their first period, leading to confusion and fear.
  • Cultural Silence: Menstruation is rarely discussed openly due to the cultural norms of indigenous Tipra people, resulting in a lack of information and support.
  • Access to Resources: Limited access to menstrual products and sanitation facilities further complicates the situation for rural indigenous women and girls. Lack of access to menstrual hygiene products in rural Tipra is forcing many women and girls to use torn pieces of cloth in place of sanitary pads.

To address these issues, comprehensive menstrual education programs are essential. These should start at the school level and include both boys and girls to foster a supportive and understanding environment. Community-based awareness campaigns can also play a significant role in educating women and their families about menstrual health.

Myths and Facts About Menstruation

In the villages of the Tipra community, various myths and misconceptions about menstruation persist, affecting the health and well-being of women and girls. Here are some common myths and the facts that dispel them:

Myth: Menstrual blood is impure and dirty.

Fact: Menstrual blood is a natural bodily fluid composed of blood, tissue, and uterine lining. It is not impure and does not pose any inherent health risk.

Myth: Menstruating women should not enter kitchens or places of worship.

Fact: There is no scientific basis for restricting menstruating women from these activities. Such practices are rooted in cultural beliefs rather than medical facts.

Myth: Menstrual pain is normal and must be endured.

Fact: While mild discomfort during menstruation is common, severe pain could indicate underlying health issues such as endometriosis or fibroids. Women should seek medical advice if they experience debilitating pain.

Myth: Using tampons or menstrual cups can affect a woman’s virginity.

Fact: Tampons and menstrual cups do not affect virginity. Virginity is a cultural concept often linked to the intactness of the hymen, which can be stretched or torn due to various non-sexual activities.

Taboos and Cultural Practices

Taboos surrounding menstruation in the society of rural Tipra have deep cultural roots and significant impacts on the lives of indigenous women and girls. Some common taboos include:

  • Isolation: Women are often isolated during their periods and restricted from participating in normal activities, including cooking, attending religious services, and even sleeping in the same room as other family members.
  • Dietary Restrictions: There are beliefs that menstruating women should avoid certain foods, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Limited Mobility: Due to the stigma and lack of sanitary facilities, many girls miss school or women miss work during their menstrual periods.

These taboos perpetuate a cycle of silence and shame, preventing women and girls from seeking the information and support they need to manage their menstrual health effectively.

Steps Towards Improvement

Improving menstrual hygiene management in rural villages of Tipra requires a multi-faceted approach:

  • Education and Awareness: Implementing comprehensive menstrual health education in schools and communities to dispel myths and provide accurate information.
  • Access to Products: Ensuring affordable and accessible menstrual products through government programs and NGO initiatives. Promoting the use of sustainable options like reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups.
  • Infrastructure: Improving sanitation facilities to provide private and clean spaces for changing menstrual products. This includes installing toilets with water supply and proper disposal systems in schools and public places.
  • Community Engagement: Involving community leaders and influencers in breaking the silence around menstruation and supporting positive change. Engaging men and boys in the conversation to foster a supportive environment.

Understanding and addressing menstrual hygiene is crucial for the health, education, and empowerment of women and girls in rural areas. By debunking myths, breaking taboos, and promoting awareness, we can create a society where menstruation is managed with dignity and without stigma. Collaborative efforts from the government, NGOs, communities, and individuals are essential to ensure that every woman and girl, particularly indigenous women and girls, can manage her menstruation safely and with confidence.

Maria Debbarma serves as an Assistant Professor in Environmental Science at MBB College, Agartala.

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