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
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
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