nique to women, the process of menstruation begins as early as the age of 8, which is often referred to as the “Menarche” or the first menstruation in a girl’s life.
The history of taboos and traditions being followed for menstruating women dates back to thousands of years from now. In fact, there have been many theories floating around the menstruation taboos and their socio-cultural effects and why they existed in the first place. However, it is still not clear as to why and how they came into being.
Different cultures view menstruation in different lights. Good or bad, these taboos and stigmas, have definitely had a certain effect on the women’s overall mental and physical health or even affected their upbringing. Some of them have proved to be beneficial, whereas some have had fatal implications.
Clearly many religions, including, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc. believed in the fact that menstrual blood is absolutely impure, which further makes the bearer or carrier of this menstrual blood – an impure being – only for the time they have their menstrual cycle on.
Based on this belief, many theories were compounded. Some religions and cultures believed that menstruating women posed a danger to the society as a whole as the blood contained some magical powers, while others thought menstruation to be a sickening process to the entire environment, which might even lead to death if anyone came in contact with a menstruating woman.
Some theories also state that in order to exclude women from a dominating or authoritative position in society, these myths were fostered even more.
The Menstruation process was always looked down upon with an element of shame and chagrin. And this tradition followed suit and still, many girls and women think of it as a taboo to even utter the word “Menstruation”. Girls are still scared and try to hide the fact that they are on their menstrual days from society. Trying to act normal, no matter how much it pains, owing to the cramps, muscle aches, mood swings, emotional breakdowns, etc.
In India, many menstruating women and girls are still barred from entering into the temples, which considers them unholy and impure during “those days”. Some are even banned from pursuing any household activities; no entry into the kitchens, providing them with a separate room to live and making them sleep on floors. Forget holy books, they are even restricted from touching any human being. And in case they do, the person has to wash before continuing any further tasks.
It has been believed that menstruating women are not only impure but also unhygienic and contaminated and hence the restrictions on entering into the kitchens.
The association of menstruation with shame, silence, evil spirits, and mortification has led the foundations for all the restrictions and taboos pertaining to menstruation and thereby making lives difficult for women on the whole.
With changing times, however, the taboos, cultural and religious aspects of menstruation have been faded to a certain extent. But then it applies only to a few developed cities around the world, where people believe in equal rights for women
Speaking about the onset of menstruation, it is, however, celebrated in most parts of the world. It is considered to be a celebration of a girl now transforming into a woman.
In certain parts of India, like South India or Assam, the Menarche is celebrated by offering presents to the girl on her first menstruation and marking it as a beginning of womanhood or transformation of a girl into a woman.
But the celebration is certainly short lived. Post that begins the ostracizing phase of 3-4 days.
Now, even though the celebration seems marking positivity and the start of the reproductive phase in a girl’s life, it led to girls getting married at a very early age, considering the fact that their only purpose in life is to reproduce.
But in some parts of Africa, for example, the Mbendjele tribe in central parts of Africa or the Mbuti Tribe from Zaire, some menstrual beliefs and customs help enhance the woman’s autonomy or their right to self-governance along with marking a period of rest from work, along with other advantages. These tribes still consider Menstruation as a powerful phenomenon and an act blessed by the moon itself.
Today, educated people at least have made it a point to learn more aspects of menstruation coming out of the social beliefs and traditions being followed. Menstruation has definitely more to it than hush-hushing the topic or getting embarrassed even at the mention of the word.
Many people have started and many still have to understand the implications that these taboos might cause and affect a woman’s overall development; that how more information on the topic would empower a woman to help ameliorate her condition, be it mental, emotional, or physical.
Even though these menstruation taboos and stigmas are ingrained in our society and cultures, we need to look beyond them in order to provide our mothers, sisters, and daughters a better and more hygienic life by taking care of their emotional and physical needs during such a vulnerable time of their life.
We can even motivate them by opting more sanitized ways (use of sanitary napkins, tampons), educating them with what the process is actually about, and letting them know that it is actually not the impure blood flowing out of their body, but a process associated with their hormones, educating them on how to take care of their bodies by not being ashamed about it, accepting it, and talking it out with anybody openly they deem fit, be it mothers, doctors, friends, etc.
Even educational institutions are coming forth and taking the initiative to educate girls about their sanitation needs during their menstruation days.
Altogether our entire society needs reforms and spreading of the “real” knowledge on menstruation to help women to make an identity of their own, breaking through the patriarchal beliefs and myths about their menstruation.