The stigma of menstruation in South Asia

Having a menstrual cycle in this area of the world marginalizes women from family and social life

The stigma of menstruation in South Asia

Leer en español: El estigma de la menstruación en el sur de Asia

Something as natural as menstruation becomes a nightmare for women in countries like India, Nepal or Bangladesh. The fact is that bleeding makes them "impure" and both their families and society prevents them from partaking in daily actions, such as visiting temples, touching food, or eating and sleeping with other people.

On January 10th, the news that a 23-year-old Nepalese girl had died when she was banished by her family during menstruation was released. The woman was confined in a small cabin and, to withstand the intense cold wave that affected Nepal that day, lit a fire, the inhalation of the smoke that produced caused her death by asphyxiation.  

Nikita Azad, a young Indian woman tired of this discrimination, was filled with courage to launch the "Happy to Bleed" campaign on Facebook two years ago. This message quickly became viral on social networks and became a symbol of pride. Thousands of Indian women began to share photos and experiences about their menstruation and Azad realized that there really was more activism and awareness than she thought, but is still conscious that there is still much to do in the Asian society's patriarchal society.

And is that the perception of that menstruation as something unhealthy and dishonorable is still very present in the countries of the Indian subcontinent, mainly in rural areas. When a woman reaches full physical maturity, she's afraid to stain, of being laughed at, and to be shunned from society. That's why many girls and adolescents avoid going to school during those days and shut themselves off from the world. 

Arundati Muralidharan, head of Water Aid in India, an organization dedicated to teaching about menstrual hygiene, affirms that "periods are wrapped up in a culture of silence that affects adolescents and motivates responses from their family and community, so that many women lack freedom, mobility and support during their periods". 

The Indian Government and some NGOs have promoted campaigns to raise awareness of menstrual hygiene society, and although progress has been made in both rural and urban areas, it is certain that sexual education, on all fronts, remains a pending issue in the country because of the many taboos that surround it. This education should not only be transmitted to young people, but also to parents, who are the ones who continue to perpetuate this negative perception of menstruation; according to data from Water Aid, 70% of Indian mothers consider periods as dirty.

In addition, there is still a lack of knowledge on this subject: 54% of young women do not know what menstruation is before their first period; only 45% believe that menstruating is normal; and most serious, many young people (88%), either by price or ignorance, use insecure "menstrual hygiene products" such as newspaper, cloth, rags or sari pieces, which often causes infections.

For months, the government of the capital, New Delhi, has distributed 700,000 free compresses to public school students and gives talks to both students and teachers to answer questions and clear up myths. As stated by Manish Sisodia, Head of Education of the government of New Delhi, "the objective is to speak. Speak to know, speak to understand and speak to normalize. "


Latin American Post | José María González Alonso

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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