Menstrual hygiene management is about simply making sure that women and girls can safely and hygienically manage their monthly periods with confidence and dignity. A big part of this management, then, is about changing the mindset towards menstruation by dispelling doubts and uprooting the misconceptions around periods. The shame, stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation are disrupting the lives of millions of women and girls.
Even today women and girls are confined to one room and served food in the room itself during their period. They are considered to be 'polluting', 'dirty' and 'impure'. These notions have had a deep impact on the psyche of women. False, harmful ideas and practices around this natural and beautiful phenomenon that is genesis of life itself, continues to impede the everyday lives of millions of women and girls in India. From having them drop-out of school to confining them within the household, taboos, lack of awareness and poverty continue to play a significant role in disempowering women. I have come across numerous women who consider themselves as being 'contaminated' and 'dirty' during menstruation. Few question this belief.
In ancient times people had no understanding of a woman's body and her menstrual cycle. The sight of blood made them concoct strange stories about this natural phenomenon. Due to ignorance and superstition and to keep women shamed, guilty and oppressed, women and girls were treated as cursed, impure beings during their period. Well, women are divine - in all circumstances - menses or no menses.
In those days there were no sanitary napkins or tampons, even underwear was unheard of. So women had no choice but to stay in one place. Essentially, it was a necessity born of compulsion. But the taboos developed over time, reinforced gender-based discrimination, perpetuating the idea that the menstruating women and girls are unclean. Patriarchy has played a huge role in using periods as another way to subjugate women, with both men and women being equal players in perpetuating these myths. Therefore, engaging men and raising awareness among them regarding the normalcy of menstruation is critical. It is about time we broke the silence around periods.
A woman is not impure in any way. There are barely any activities women can’t do when on their period. They can live perfectly normal lives, be fully functional, play sport and even go for a swim if they use tampons.
I want to tell people who say that a woman is impure during her periods that menstruation is a normal, essential, biological process. Educating girls before their first period -- and, importantly, boys -- on menstruation, builds their confidence, contributes to social solidarity and encourages healthy habits. Such information should be provided at home and at school.
Menstruation does not lead to impurity. Impurity only lies in the minds of men and women. Blood cannot be impure; it runs in your veins. Do you hate yourself for it? What is impurity? Is it in your body or mind? Anger, jealousy, hatred, ignorance - these are impurities. If you have an impure mind then whether you are a man or a woman, you are impure.
The absurdity of superstitions in India become apparent in several ways; just one of them is when a woman is told not to touch pickles during her period as they may get spoilt! This is an absolutely unscientific belief. Do women ooze germs during their menses that the pickle will go bad? The blood coursing in the veins of men and women is not different. If someone is hurt and he bleeds, what do you do? You clean the wound and bandage it. No one says that the person should not be touched as he is bleeding and therefore impure.
To get rid of this myth I asked a scientist in Hyderabad to conduct a research on menstruating women. Along with her associates she made one hundred menstruating women touch pickles for three months. She also got them to make pickles. The pickles were sealed and kept under observation. Not a single jar went bad! The experiment was conducted with the greatest care and discipline. The conclusions affirm what I have always said - there are no harmful vibes during menstruation.
A woman's first moral duty is towards herself. She should keep her body and mind in good health. Stress, hormonal changes and lack of self-development are some reasons that prevent women from being healthy. Girls and women with disabilities and special needs face additional challenges with menstrual hygiene and are affected disproportionately with lack of access to toilets with water and materials to manage their period.
There is unrelenting societal pressure for girls and young women to conform to the images they see around them in traditional and social media which affects their confidence. Yoga can help women cope with health issues and develop the body and mind. Among other benefits it greatly alleviates menstrual pain, manages stress and ensures an easy delivery. Yoga asanas also tone up muscles and exercise the body to eliminate excess fat and make it more flexible and strong. Yoga works on many levels: body, mind and spirit. It relaxes the mind and makes one connect more deeply with one’s body and oneself, leading to self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It also helps acquire a positive attitude towards life. If a woman wants a healthy life devoid of strain and stress, she should start her day with yoga.
As a woman in a male-dominated space of religious leaders, I try to instill the critical value of enabling equal value of boys and girls in every way possible. This menstrual hygiene day let us commit to never again practicing or propagating harmful practices around periods. A positive mind, healthy body, holistic lifestyle and being in harmony with nature ensures that, all of us, and every single woman can be all that she wants to be, anytime and every time!