By Qamarina Razali
To have the subject of menstruation or period, as we usually call it, in a conversation although seemingly not difficult, seems to be otherwise, if done in public rather than in private settings. In most societies, to engage in a healthy discussion about the subject is still considered a taboo.
Menstruation is often associated with the word ‘dirty’ hence menstruating women are considered ‘impure’ or ‘unclean’. Sadly, period taboo is deeply stemmed from this kind of mindset.
Stigma surrounding period
I had countless situations where each one of them involved in some sort of unconscious thoughts rising if I would ever talk about such an ‘embarrassing’ topic in public spaces.
“Oh no, did I say period too loud?” “What if people get uncomfortable hearing this?”
Even whilst writing on this particular issue, there is somewhat a voice at the back of my mind asking questions like “what is appropriate to write and what is not”?
Generally, menstruation is considered an embarrassing matter, needless to say, even mentioning words that are related to it sometimes is shameful for many of us.
Your period comes today, but you did not bring a pad? Ask your friend if they do but remember to replace the word ‘pad’ with something else.
As someone who attended a co-ed school, I would say girls would wander their eyes, expressing reluctance to say anything whenever the menstrual-related topic was brought up in class. Regrettably, there was also a time when a girl with menstrual cramp would rather be racked in pain because apparently, it would be embarrassing if boys know you are missing class ‘just because’ that time of the month comes.
In other parts of the world, the stigma around menstruation also seems to not fail to embed itself in the societies.
In Nepal, a custom known as chhaupadi involves ousting women to huts when they are menstruating as it is believed they will bring their family ‘bad luck’. This practice had resulted in the occurrence of illnesses and even death among women. However, fortunately, in August 2018, the practice has been prohibited as law has taken into effect in banning the said traditional practice. Anyone who enforces the custom would face a three-month jail sentence and a fine. Even so, in a report by The Guardian, local authorities had to resort to taking other measures as the tradition is still common in remote regions.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, one in five girls and young women are teased or bullied about their periods. Sixty-six percent of them said they had missed classes because of it, according to research carried out by Plan International UK.
It is devastating to see menstrual stigma has the ability to generate the loss in education as well as damaging the girls’ self-esteem and health.
Ending the stigma
In Islam, menstruation is viewed as a natural and healthy process of a woman body. Women on menstruation are neither ‘dirty’ nor are they punished by God according to Islamic beliefs. In fact, women on period are to be nicely treated as they usually should.
As a society, the environment for healthy discussion on topics like menstruation and other natural human body processes alike should be normalised. This is to reassure not only women, but men as well, that they are not alone and not to be ashamed in seeking answers to questions about their own bodies. In a way, this is a step to make sure people, the young minds especially, not to be misinformed with wrong answers.
To encourage more positive and empowering discussions surrounding menstruation, there have been increasing efforts to fight the stigma that perpetuates period taboo.
The rallies that took place in 50 states of America on 19 October recently were organised in conjunction with the first-ever National Period Day, spearheaded by a non-profit organisation, Period.
They were carried out with the aim of highlighting issues such as period poverty, where policy demands for freely accessible period products and elimination of the tax on tampon in some states, were emphasised.
Red Talks, a non-profit organisation run by youth based in Malaysia, has also taken steps to raise awareness in health and feminine hygiene education. The organisation has been active on several social media accounts like Instagram and Twitter in an attempt to increase greater awareness and consciousness concerning menstruation.***