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Stop period shaming

The need for open conversations about menstrual health and sexual health in academic

education for adolescents.


It is not a secret that we, a country of more than 1 billion people, shy away from the

menstruation' and ‘sex'. Menstruation, a natural biological process that affects about half of

all humans is regarded as “dirty” in many cultures and has been looked down upon by the

patriarchal society for many years because it's an issue concerning only women. Often, even

well-read urban living population regard ‘periods’ and 'sex' as vicious taboos. The only few

times you'd see middle-aged people talk about sex is while nudging a newly married couple,

asking them to give a 'good news'.


It’s a shame how mostly every girl has an uncomfortable story to tell, about periods. It's not

just the terribly painful period cramps or secret alternative words for periods or “smuggling

pads” into washrooms but some face even more shameful and terrifying experiences. Some

girls experience social abandonment, 88% don't get access to menstrual hygiene products, 1

in 5 girls are made to discontinue education. A 2014 UNICEF report pointed out that in

Tamil Nadu, 79 per cent girls and women were unaware of menstrual hygiene practices. The

percentage was 66% in Uttar Pradesh, 56% in Rajasthan and 51% in West Bengal. Only 13%

of menstruating girls and women in Maharashtra knew about periods before they

experience them, according to a UNICEF report. Overall about 70% of girls and women lack

information about their periods in India. Patriarchal ignorance, superstitions, taboos deprive

young girls of crucial information on menstruation and the importance of menstrual hygiene.

Sexual health is taught very briefly or not at all to young adolescents.


But we fail to see how this is a systematic problem that needs to be looked upon immediately.

Lack of awareness has always been a problem in India’s menstrual hygiene scenario.

“Women across India grow up remaining unaware of the real reasons for menstruation and

the importance of menstrual hygiene. The taboo surrounding it remains a part of their

growing up and continues with their daughters. Hence, the lack of awareness is carried

forward via generations in India” said Supriya Khanna of Indian Council for Medical

Research. Because of lack of information and awareness so many girls in rural settings often

feel like it is a burden to be a girl and feels like their life comes to halt when their period

starts.


Well sadly but not surprisingly, there has been significant opposition to sex education,

especially in 2007, when sex education curriculum was promoted by India's Ministry of

Human Resource Development many opponents believed that sex education is against our

Indian values. Following this, states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka,

Kerala, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Goa decided to ban sex education programmes. Dinanath

Batra of the ‘Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti’, wrote a letter on behalf of the organization,

stating that teachers who followed the sex-education curriculum could be jailed for two years

on the charge of "outraging the modesty of a woman.”


Later, over the years, sexual health education was introduced in the curriculum but only to

find out that it wasn’t very effectively discussed. Schools were not very helpful either as

schools in rural areas refrained from discussing menstrual hygiene. A 2015 survey by the

Ministry of Education found that in 63% schools in villages, teachers never discussed

menstruation and how to deal with it in a hygienic manner. In many schools the girls are

taken to separate hall and briefed about periods which leaves boys with little to no

information about menstruation. This results in a society that has half of the population with

no clue about what the other half is going through.


We need programmes that openly discuss menstruation, sex and STDs and allow children to

ask questions. It goes without saying that teaching the children about biological processes

regarding sex, menstruation and STD’s is important. But what is crucial and often ignored is

teaching adolescents about the socio-cultural impact of sex on our society and lives. Teaching

them about consent, respecting physical boundaries, contraception, taboos etc is often ignored.

Above all, we need to provide a safe space for children to ask questions without shame and

embarrassment. There also should be proper menstrual hygiene sessions for parents too,

along with their child, which will help us break the taboos that are set around menstruation

and sex in cultures and religions over centuries.


In April 2018, a white-paper was released by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and

Ministry of Human Resource & Development, Government of India on sexual education

guidelines in school. There were specific guidelines in Ayushman Bharat Yojana for this

initiative to be effective ,such as giving preference to young teachers with an ability to

connect to students. Well, we only hope that this makes a significant change in our

conversations about periods and sexual health.


‘What can we do?’

If you are a teacher/parent

 Take part in positive conversations with children regarding menstruation and sex.

 Make sure you have appropriate information in the first place

 Demand for better sexual health modules or propose better ones

If you are a student

 Understand the importance of menstrual health and sexual health

 Be sensitive around issues related to it and empathise with issues any menstruaters

face.

 Make sure you have appropriate sources of information

 Not take part in anything that even remotely disrespects anyone or contributes to

the patriarchal society’s vicious beliefs


Today’s young generation will be tomorrow’s working adults that will shape the world and

we have to actively work towards their holistic development. We do not want a tomorrow of

mis-informed individuals. We do not want 225 million adolescent girls feeling uncomfortable,

unwanted, unconfident, and uninformed about what is going on with their bodies. And we do

not want girls to drop their education and dreams because of mis-information or lack of

awareness. We want our girls and women to live with dignity and hope of fulfilling their

dreams. We want individuals that respect consent and take responsible decisions. We want

our girlchild to know that she could be anything she wants to be and that a period is only an

end of a sentence and not her education or her dreams or her life.




Article written by Anushka Kulkarni

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