- BACKDROP OF THE EVENT
The article published in Al-Jazeera talks about the activists working to confront period taboos in Pakistan, where menstruation is considered a highly stigmatized topic. Women who menstruate often face discrimination and shame, and many cannot access basic health care, including pads, tampons, and even painkillers to manage period cramps. The article highlights the work of several organizations and individuals who are fighting against these taboos and advocating for menstrual health awareness.
For instance, Mahwari Justice, a women-led organization founded in 2021, seeks to provide menstruation-related services, including free sanitary products and hygiene education, to marginalized communities and challenge the patriarchal attitudes that perpetuate menstrual shame. Additionally, the article highlights the work of the founder of the organization, Bushra Mahnoor, who has been a prominent advocate for menstrual rights.
The sub-topic in the article, titled “Period Poverty and Floods: A Toxic Combination in Conservative Pakistan,” discusses how period poverty exacerbates the effects of floods in the country, particularly among women and girls. In Pakistan, where menstruation is still considered highly taboo, many women do not have access to sanitary products or facilities, leaving them particularly vulnerable in times of disaster.
In the aftermath of the floods that began in June 2022, many women and girls faced increased danger due to a lack of adequate menstrual hygiene facilities, including clean water, soap, and disposal units. The article calls for increased awareness and resources to address this issue and ensure that women and girls are not left behind in times of crisis.
- THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM; MENSTRUAL SHAME AND TABOOS ASSOCIATED WITH FEMALE HYGIENE
Menstrual shame and taboos have long plagued societies across the globe, imposing unwarranted stigmatization and discrimination upon women. These deeply ingrained cultural beliefs create an atmosphere of secrecy, silence, and embarrassment surrounding menstruation, often resulting in adverse consequences for women’s physical and emotional well-being. One prevalent aspect of menstrual shame is the notion that periods are dirty, unclean, or impure.
This idea stems from ancient cultural and religious beliefs that associated menstruation with sin or pollution. As a result, women have been subjected to exclusion from social and religious activities, forced to adhere to strict restrictions, and isolated during their menstrual cycles. Such practices reinforce the idea that menstruation is something to be hidden, ashamed of, and spoken about only in hushed tones. This pervasive shame also manifests through the lack of open dialogue surrounding menstruation. Many societies consider it a taboo subject, rendering discussions about periods uncomfortable or inappropriate.
This silence perpetuates ignorance and misinformation, depriving young girls of crucial knowledge about their own bodies and reproductive health. It also hampers efforts to address menstrual hygiene effectively, leading to inadequate sanitary facilities, limited access to menstrual products, and increased health risks. Moreover, the shame associated with menstruation often extends to the workplace and educational settings.
Women may feel compelled to conceal their menstrual cycles, fearing judgment, ridicule, or negative repercussions. The absence of supportive policies and facilities, such as menstrual leave or proper sanitary infrastructure, further exacerbates the challenges faced by women during this natural biological process. Consequently, menstruation becomes an added burden, impeding women’s participation and hindering their professional and educational advancement.
- PLAUSIBLE SOLUTIONS IN URBAN AREAS
Addressing menstrual shame and taboos associated with periods in urban areas requires a multi-dimensional approach that encompasses education, awareness, policy changes, and community engagement. Here are some plausible solutions to tackle this issue:
1. Comprehensive menstrual health education: Implement inclusive and age-appropriate menstrual health education in schools, colleges, and community centers. This should cover accurate information about menstruation, reproductive health, hygiene practices, and dispelling myths and misconceptions. Educating both girls and boys will help foster understanding, and empathy, and promote healthy attitudes towards menstruation.
2. Public awareness campaigns: Launch targeted awareness campaigns using various media platforms to challenge societal norms and stereotypes surrounding periods. These campaigns can feature real stories and experiences, emphasizing the normalcy of menstruation and encouraging open conversations. Engaging influential individuals, celebrities, and social media influencers can help reach a wider audience and break the silence surrounding menstruation.
3. Safe and accessible menstrual products: Ensure availability, affordability, and accessibility of menstrual hygiene products in urban areas. Establish initiatives that provide subsidized or free menstrual products to low-income individuals or implement vending machines in public restrooms. Collaborate with NGOs, community organizations, and businesses to support initiatives such as reusable sanitary pad programs or menstrual cup distribution.
4. Menstrual-friendly infrastructure: Improve public infrastructure by incorporating menstrual-friendly facilities. Public restrooms should be equipped with clean and private spaces for changing menstrual products. Workplaces, schools, and public spaces should have appropriate disposal systems for menstrual waste, along with handwashing facilities and access to clean water.
5. Policy reforms: Advocate for policy changes that address menstrual health and hygiene. Encourage governments to allocate funds for menstrual hygiene management programs, including education, infrastructure, and provision of menstrual products. Implement menstrual leave policies in workplaces to provide women with the necessary support and flexibility during their periods.
2.2 RURAL AREAS: SAME TABOOS BUT DIFFERENT SOCIO-ECONOMIC SCENARIO
In rural areas, the menstrual shame and taboos surrounding periods can be particularly pronounced due to a combination of traditional beliefs, limited access to resources, and lack of education. These factors contribute to a pervasive culture of secrecy, stigma, and discrimination that negatively impacts the lives of women and girls. Traditional beliefs and cultural norms often play a significant role in shaping attitudes toward menstruation in rural areas.
Many communities hold deep-rooted notions that consider menstruation as impure, dirty, or even a curse. Women and girls may be isolated or segregated during their periods, forced to observe strict restrictions, and barred from participating in everyday activities or religious practices. This isolation reinforces the notion that menstruation is something shameful and to be hidden, perpetuating the cycle of silence and stigma. Limited access to menstrual hygiene products is another challenge faced by women in rural areas.
Due to economic constraints and lack of availability, many women resort to using ineffective or unhygienic materials such as rags, leaves, or even soil. This not only compromises their physical health but also contributes to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Additionally, the lack of private and clean sanitation facilities further adds to the difficulties faced by women during menstruation, forcing them to manage their periods in unsanitary and undignified conditions. The dearth of comprehensive menstrual health education exacerbates the problem in rural areas.
Schools often overlook or omit information about menstruation from their curriculum, leaving girls uninformed and unprepared for this natural process. This knowledge gap perpetuates myths, misunderstandings, and fear surrounding periods, reinforcing the sense of shame and perpetuating harmful practices. Moreover, the silence and shame associated with menstruation also impact women’s economic and social opportunities in rural areas.
Girls may miss school during their periods, leading to educational gaps and diminished prospects. In some cases, women may be unable to work or engage in income-generating activities, resulting in financial instability and dependence. These barriers further entrench gender inequalities, limiting women’s empowerment and perpetuating cycles of poverty.
2.3 PLAUSIBLE SOLUTIONS IN URBAN AREAS
Addressing menstrual shame and taboos in rural areas requires a multi-faceted approach. Community-based initiatives that raise awareness, challenge harmful beliefs, and promote open dialogue are crucial. Education programs that provide comprehensive information about menstruation, reproductive health, and hygiene practices can empower girls and women with the knowledge they need to manage their periods safely and confidently.
Improving access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products is essential. Efforts should be made to provide subsidies, distribute free sanitary pads, or support the local production of eco-friendly alternatives. Investing in the development of proper sanitation infrastructure, including private toilets with clean water and waste management systems, is also vital for ensuring the dignity and well-being of women during their periods.
Engaging community leaders, religious figures, and influential individuals in rural areas is pivotal in challenging the cultural norms and traditions that perpetuate menstrual shame. By involving men and boys in discussions and promoting gender equality, attitudes can gradually shift, and support systems can be established.
Ultimately, breaking the menstrual shame and taboos in rural areas requires a holistic approach that combines education, access to resources, and community involvement. By empowering women and girls, providing them with the necessary knowledge and support, and creating an environment of acceptance and understanding, rural communities can overcome the burdens of menstrual shame and enable women to live with dignity and equality.
THE WAY FORWARD
The article under consideration has only highlighted the pathetic condition of women’s hygiene in Pakistan however, the situation is the same in the entire south-Asian region with slight variations. Also, the larger part of Asia, South America, Africa, and many in Europe and North America are faced with similar challenges as that of the countries in south-Asia.
It is noteworthy that this piece has attempted to dissect the issue in the South-Asian context only. Separate studies must be done to ascertain the varying conditions in other countries and suitable measures must be taken to address the issues there. Lastly, we have almost reached the first quarter of the 21st century and yet we are grappling with issues that ought to have been resolved way back in time. This presents us with a reality check as to how miserably we have failed in eradicating social taboos and accomplishing the mythical objective of gender parity.