We’re making a sizable dent in the glass ceiling, managing home and work with the dexterity of accomplished jugglers and have access to breaking news in health and technology. Yet, when it comes to menstruation, women in 21st-century urban and semi-urban India, still prefer to err on the side of superstition, going by a nationwide survey conducted by Whisper and IPSOS.
The highlights of the study included revelations that during their menstrual cycle, 65% of women wait until the fourth day to wash their hair, 59% of women in metros don’t touch the pickle, 54% of women believe in not watering plants, as many as 65% of women perceived their “monthly period” as coming in the way of achieving their full potential and more than half of urban India follow these and other menstrual taboos. While we joke openly with other women (and men) about PMS, clearly our ideas about menstruation and its implications are a bit awry.
“All these are just myths,” insists anthropologist Dr Suneela Garg, a representative of Feminine and Infant Hygiene Association of India (FIHA). “Menstruation is nothing but a simple physiological process that takes place every month. Can you imagine the economic implications of losing five precious working days every month unnecessarily? We now have thinner napkins, you can prepare yourself for the pain by keeping anti-spasmodic medication on hand, and counselling is also available; there’s no need to let menstruation hamper your plans.”
Aditi Gupta, Founder, Menstrupedia.com, is working to create greater awareness about menstruation and menstrual hygiene, not only amongst girls but boys too, through a comic book that releases next month (amongst other platforms). She tells us how despite coming from a highly educated family, she followed menstrual taboos when she was younger. So is there any rationale behind our beliefs?
Aditi points out that, “At one point in time, the river was a communal bathing space, the source of drinking water and the location for washing clothes and vessels. This may have prompted women to stay away from the river when they were menstruating to avoid contaminating the communal water body”.
Dr Susheela draws to our attention how things worked backwards for women; because they couldn’t bathe, they weren’t permitted to worship (as most worship requires that you bathe beforehand); thus women came to be regarded as impure whilst they were menstruating; the notion of impurity stuck and developed corollaries— women weren’t allowed to enter the kitchen, to water plants, to touch the pickle…
“How does the pickle know I’m having my periods?,” jokes Parineeti Chopra, whose monthly cycle won’t stop her from dancing, if her role requires it. Given the contradictory inputs, it’s probably wise to do what makes you happy. That said, Tashi and Nungshi Malik didn’t let their menstrual cycles come in the way of becoming the first twins to summit Mt Everest. Captain Preeti Singh an award-winning pilot has clocked more than 4,000 flying hours and rising, periods notwithstanding. Ishita Malaviya, reportedly the first professional female Indian surfer, won’t let her periods keep her out of the water. Thousands of women around India go about their work taking this physiological phenomena in their stride. Do you?