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Period stigma: 5 ways to overcome shame around menstruation

Menstruation is a natural process of a woman's human body and there should be no shame attached to it. Here are 5 ways to overcome the period stigma.
period stigma
Menstrual cycle is a normal biological process. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Ravi Ramachandran Updated: 15 Dec 2022, 16:40 pm IST
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Menstruation is a completely natural and universal process, associated with female reproduction. But it continues to be a taboo subject in most sections of the Indian society. The word ‘periods’ is usually uttered in hushed voices and years of social conditioning have built a culture of silence around what is a normal biological process. Women are accustomed to purchasing black plastic-covered sanitary pads off the shelf without having a chance to read the material or determine whether or not that particular pack of pads meets their needs. In the advertising and marketing world, menstruation has always meant a cis-gendered woman in white pants, conquering the world with blue liquid dripping on her cotton strips. Misinformation or a lack of information about menstruation leads to misconceptions, discrimination, and period stigma which hinders girls and women from treating it as a normal part of their lives.

What promotes the stigma around menstruation?

1. Discrimination

Period-related discrimination and shaming are observed in some cultures. Women are forced to sleep in a separate bed or banished from the bedroom while menstruating. They are not allowed to enter the kitchen nor allowed to attend ritual practices. This kind of discrimination can lead to feelings of shame.

2. Taboos and stigma around discussing periods

Unacceptability towards the term and the conversation is another issue. Refusing to talk about menstruation straightforwardly by using code words like “That Time of the Month” or “difficult days” tend to reinforce the thought that discussing periods is not acceptable.

period stigma
There should a discussion about period at home. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Lack of access to period products

In our country, menstrual hygiene is a very serious problem. With over 400 million menstruating women in India, about 80 percent do not use sanitary pads, most young girls are unaware of periods until they get it and many of them do not have adequate sanitation facilities which leads to major health deterioration.

4. Cost of period products

Another concern is the cost of period products. A lot of people, especially those belonging to economically weaker sections, can’t afford menstrual hygiene products (sanitary pads) to deal with menstruation, so they opt for home remedies like using old clothes repeatedly.

Also read: 5 period rules women should never break

5. Lack of knowledge

Similar to other taboo subjects, menstruation communication is limited by cultural norms. Girls are trained to keep quiet about their periods since it is forbidden and discussing them in public is considered impolite. Shame prevents a woman from talking about menstruation despite the fact that it is universal and very normal and natural. In fact, many young girls know nothing about menstruation before they have their first period.

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More often than not, girls are advised by older women to remain silent on this topic and are not allowed to discuss it with anyone except other older females who are close to them. This may be done to protect the girls from being shamed by boys or men who are unable to handle such talk politely due to cultural norms. However, this limits the level of knowledge about periods among both menstruating girls and males in the community and enforces a sense of embarrassment about menstruation.

The major effect of stigma attached to period

Young girls frequently face some menstruation-related problems like pad leaks, period shaming, and teasing from their male friends and other people. The inability to manage menstruation safely in the school environment has led many girls to stay home during their period. In India, every month, around 20 million girls refuse to go to school once they start menstruating. This contributes to poor school attendance and academic performance among youth, which negatively affects their current and future educational opportunities.

period stigma
Everyone should have a access to period products. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How to overcome the shame and stigma around menstruation

1. Communication

Similar to other taboo subjects, discussing menstruation requires cultural support. It’s necessary to end the taboo surrounding it and acknowledge that the menstrual cycle is a vital biological process and that there is nothing shameful about it.

Young people of all genders should be taught that menstruation is a sign of a healthy body. When we use gender-specific language to frame menstruation as strictly a women’s issue, we strongly support the thought that menstruation is only important to females.

2. Educate everyone

Non-menstruating people should not be excluded from this education or these conversations but should be rather actively involved in the conversation around menstruation. Educating and engaging non-menstruators to understand that menstruation is not something to be embarrassed about can further reduce stigma and empower menstruating people.

Also read: Is your daughter about to hit puberty? Here’s how you can prep her for her first period

3. Recognize the power of the menstrual cycle

Menstruation and intimate health should be discussed in an open manner to help break the taboo. This can be done with close friends and family members, coworkers, strangers, or on a larger scale.

4. Stop using code language

We should stop using code names for periods like Code Red, Chums, Girl Flu
Stop being ashamed of being on your period or call what it is a period or menstruation.

period stigma
Speak about it. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

5. Parents should educate their child at home

Educate boys about menstruation to build confidence among the menstruators that it is a very normal biological process that happens every month. It will also teach boys to be sensitive and responsible in their interactions with menstruating women.

You should also try to increase access to period products as this is the key step to breaking the stigma.

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About the Author

Ravi Ramachandran, a women wellness and health expert ...Read More

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