The other day Antardristi Nepal, an NGO, requested me to talk about menstruation myths for a short video recording they were making. I was curious. It turned out they wanted to make girls aware of menstruation and menstruation management. While talking about menstruation, two things came up. One, its actual management and the devices used, and two, the myths around menstruation. To create awareness and for the wellness of women, we came up with ‘Mero Jhola’ that has reusable flannel pads. Now you must be thinking: ‘Why is she talking about menstruation management and Mero Jhola and not the myths?’
Well, would you believe, the two come hand in hand? Improper management gives rise to different kinds of myths. While talking about myths, I am reminded of the time one of my friends had her first period. After ‘managing’ her condition, she had been sent home and she missed school for some days after that. On inquiry, we got a simple answer, ‘she is fine’. This was my first encounter with the myth of not talking about it.
Soon it was my turn. I was instructed to stay in my room and not to touch food or show my face to anyone. No one had talked to me about it. I was confused, scared, was in pain and felt like crying. At the time our family was in exile. There were always lots of people around. It was nearly impossible to hide me but my mother kept trying. I thought I was going to die and so my mother was trying to keep me away from other people.
I thought if I touched food other people would die too. I was very worried, but my mother was worried about something else. One day she pulled me aside and said, ‘If asked, just mention you started your period in your mama ghar and that you have already served your ordeal of one month seclusion.’ Of course no one asked me, but my curiosity increased. Initially I was too timid to ask questions or rebel but I did not like the idea of seclusion at all.
A myth busted
I continued to discuss academic issues with my father even during my period, even though I got yelled at for it. Soon enough it was Dasain. That year, we were going to my mama ghar for Dasain. I was not sure how I was going to manage when I menstruated there. I decided to take it one day at a time. When we reached there, I talked to my elder cousin sister about my concern. She just laughed and said not to worry, because in their house they did not discriminate against menstruating girls. It was just a myth and her mother’s (my phupu’s) rule was to avoid going to the puja room, but that was it. That was one myth busted. So long as I was clean and maintained my hygiene everything was okay. I could eat with everyone at the table and not worry about that. Life became normal.
I always told my mom that if she did not want to touch me, she would have to levitate me. Otherwise I am touching her because we stand on the same ground and all ground is connected. She would yell at me and I would just laugh. I was free of the myth but there are still countless women who are bound by the myth and they will most likely pass it down, from generation to generation. This is not the only myth around here. We also have those who believe that salt or milk should not be given to menstruating women.
Logically, I believe this myth came into existence when there were no private toilets for either men or women. Women also had to go to the jungle for their daily routine. Now the idea of this particular myth was safety and security of women. Less liquid meant fewer trips to the jungle. But it is odd that this practice was carried forward to the modern society. Once I asked women who adhered to this myth why they did so, their only answer was ‘because mother said so’.
Sheds of shame
Even now many girls are discriminated against during their menstruation. Menstruating women are seen as impure and polluted, and are often isolated as untouchables in the chau, unable to return to their family for the length of their period. This does not make sense. These are rules made by men because ours is a male-dominated society. It is entirely possible that men did not like the clumsiness of women or their smell or even thought women to be dirty and impure during their periods.
It has been so well instilled in women, that now women too think that is the way to go.
In this milieu, parents of young, menstruating girls should give them moral and psychological support and confidence during this time and not in any way discriminate against them, or leave them alone to fend for themselves.
Times have changed and women these days are capable of taking care of themselves if they are given proper tools and instructions. I don’t want to go to the villages of Accham or Daduldhura to discuss the ‘week of shame’. We all know it exists right here in the valley. We profess to be ultra-modern, but parents still practice menstrual discrimination. Even those ultra-modern girls and women face this discrimination during their periods and they accept it as something nonnegotiable.
Many women still practice Chhaupadi, if in slightly modified forms. We have not been able to take good care of our women and girls despite the fact that Chhaupadi was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2005.
Finally, parents, please understand that menstruation is not something unclean and impure. It is a process that women go through about every 28 days. During this time, woman’s ovaries create a mature ovum (egg). Then the woman’s body prepares for pregnancy by thickening the walls of the uterus. If she doesn’t get pregnant during this time, the egg and the lining of the uterus come out of her body during menstruation. Since no one talks about it, it is possible that even many women don’t know exactly what is happening.
Some believe it is a cruel curse on women. Parents, please understand, it is not a curse! It is a natural process; so don’t traumatize your child. They need your support and love to face this ordeal which frightens them already. You don’t need to make them feel ashamed as well. So the next time your child has her menstruation, please don’t send them to Chhaupadi. Instead give them the tender loving care that they deserve. Now that is not much to ask, right parents?
The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books: firstname.lastname@example.org