3 years ago
The Changing Status of Menstruation
Nails and hair grow, we sweat, we cry and half of us bleed. Then why is it that of all the physiological processes only one has been pushed to an abnormal position a socio-religious stigma? Was this selection absolutely random, or was it more thought out that we give it credit for?
A 60-year-old homemaker shed some light on the issue, “Back in the day, we stayed near forests surrounded by wildlife. We were asked to not leave home because animals were more prone to attacking menstruating women. But it doesn’t make sense now. There’s no need to keep women in huts.” Perhaps, this reminiscent account of a personal experience illustrates that in the modern world there is no requirement for menstruation to be guided by the society.
Spotting the Root
With the abolishment of ‘Chhaupadi’, women no longer have to be banished to cow sheds, or huts to undergo period shaming. The stigma surrounding menstruation is manifested in a manner that does not result in the perpetrator being fined or jailed. The modern-day ‘Chhaupadi’ does not permit women to enter the kitchen or allow them to pray. In some instances, it is not let menstruating girls attend schools either.
As per a report released by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative in 2016, only 36% of schools in Nepal had separate toilets for girls; and 3 out of 10 girls in the country missed school during their periods. According to the article, “In some societies, menstruation is perceived as being unclean or embarrassing, preventing girls and women from speaking about menstrual hygiene in public and in private spaces.
This includes the school context where the environment may not be conducive to girls talking about their hygiene.” Girls must feel free and safe to talk about their experiences with menstruation. It is an environment of silence and ignorance that encourages the acceptance of menstruation as a taboo where fear and confusion become synonymous with shame and embarrassment due to lack of accurate information.
Breaking the Spell
Ashmina Ranjit is a pioneer of ‘artivism’ in Nepal. She amalgamates art and activism and brings to light long repressed issues of the sub-continent, mainly concerning sexuality and menstruation. Ranjit questions societal norms using her conceptual art in a fashion to shake the dormant man out of his sweet slumber of blissful ignorance. Growing up, Ranjit came face to face with the ever-present dos and don’ts dictated by the society on the basis of gender. Lured by the clouds and the endless sky, she felt the desire to fly, to become a pilot.
However, the adolescent Ranjit realized that the desire was more metaphorical than literal. She felt the need to speak up and question, at which point she too turned to art, courtesy growing up in a family of artists. She recognized the faults within our society: “Sexuality was one of the things we needed to express. Talking about our body was impure.”
Learning and practicing art as a young adult, she started to manifest the curiosity and anger from her childhood days in the 1990s. In 1993, she curated her first solely women-centric exhibition with the theme of desire and freedom. Then, she created an installation titled ‘Womb Room’ in 2000, where the spectators entered a simulation of the female genitalia to experience the process of menstruation. In the late 2000s, she attended a social event wearing a dress made out of over 10, 000 sanitary napkins. And, in 2013, she conducted a workshop with 13 young women who were artists, women from marginalized communities, and victims of rape. She co-created a performance with them exploring the theme of identity, menstruation, and sexuality.
Pragya Lamsal, a journalist, and development professional traveled all across the country to understand the stigma revolving around menstruation which she realized was rampant throughout. By meeting women all over Nepal, using radio programs, blogs, and articles, she has been successful in spreading the message that menstruation is not a cultural or religious issue, instead, a human right issue.
In her visits to districts, she often meets young girls, listens to their views with regard to menstrual taboo and educates them on key aspects of menstrual management and WASH (The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools, program in Nepal that is a part of a global initiative of UNICEF) to help them discard the idea of menstruation being a taboo. She advocates that “Smashing taboos around menstruation is about privacy, dignity, and respect.
I disowned the whole culture of menstrual restrictions because my body is my right and no culture, law or country can change that. I believe that blood can never be a sin. It is beautiful. It is natural. So it is important that all women take pride in this.”
Stories of Menstruation
Surena Shrestha, 23,
on period shaming
“I remember this one time there was a family function and I had to go to a relative’s place for a traditional Newari dinner. I was on my period and my relative, a woman and a teacher of health and population, told me that I’d have to eat separately and not touch the door that lead to the ‘puja room’. I felt horrible. I could barely swallow the food.”
Amit Thapa, 34,
on men’s opinions on menstruation
“Menstruation is a thing of the women. Men have no say because we don’t know how it feels. If the woman wants to rest, let her. If she wants to work, let her.”
Pranit Shreshtha, 19,
on menstruation being a taboo
“It’s a natural process — every woman has to go through it. It shouldn’t be a taboo. Many years ago it was considered a taboo because of hygiene issues but in today’s world it’s changed because we have sanitary napkins, etc. The scenario of menstruation being a taboo doesn’t fit in this time and world.”