Community Update

World Pulse Toolkits Available!

At World Pulse, we recognize the need for ongoing learning—for you and for your community! Our toolkits are all available here.

We are especially excited to share our signature Citizen Journalism and Digital Empowerment Curriculum. Start learning today!

Breaking The Menstrual Taboo - For girls To Remain In Schools

For decades, adolescent girls in India, have struggled with the topic of menstruation and the taboo attached to it. This fairly widespread but unacknowledged problem has resulted in many girls to miss or drop out of schools and remain at home feeling victimized for something which is natural and part of their womanhood.

According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, more than 300 million women and girls in India, do not have access to safe menstrual hygiene products. The inaccessibility curtails them from attaining education, endangering their health and putting livelihoods at risk. At least 23 % of girls leave school once they start menstruating, and the rest miss an average of five days during their monthly period.

While the lack of awareness is shocking, what is worse is the social stigma and 'silence' attached to it. The deep seated taboo around menstruation, rife in rural areas, forces the mothers to not discuss about it openly with their daughters or even among themselves. It is perceived as a "hidden" thing, where women are considered as "untouchables' or "dirty" during their monthly period. The psychological trauma associated with this fear and silence, impacts the routine life of a girl where she is often restricted from attending schools or even from entering the house kitchen to take food.

For a girl, stepping into puberty should be perceived as something of a celebration, instead they are stigmatized into believing that menstruation is unnatural and shameful and that they should be embarrassed about it.

Awareness - Solutions

It is not surprising to note that many girls in India didn't know what a menstrual period was before they had their first one. Most of them resorted to using cloths instead of sanitary napkins, and many wonder why it happens.

The first step towards improved menstrual hygiene is the acceptance of this natural process and removal of any superstitious stigma attached to it so that not only girls but even their family can discuss about it without feeling of shame or embarrassment.

Most often than not, the unavailability of low cost sanitary products at rural communities forces the girls to use unhygienic materials like cloth or newspapers instead of clean sanitary napkins. Increasing the provisions of safe sanitary products at village levels and educating the masses about their proper use, is the key to increased awareness about this issue.

Campaigns and talks should be encouraged at school levels, which will help in breaking the silence to promote a positive change around sanitation practices in India.

An initiative in this direction, supported by the Government of India , has been pioneered by the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, also known as the Great WASH Yatra. This program, comprising a travelling group of people, has started a one of a kind attempt at promoting safe health guidelines at community level and strives to finding solutions collectively.

Though the initiative is praiseworthy, I feel there should be similar campaigns at every community, block and rural school levels. Many young girls have benefited from this program and learnt to finally talk about this issue openly but there are many others who still suffer in silence.

We cannot allow more girls to be discriminated or embarrassed based on outdated beliefs or lack of knowledge. It takes years to change a taboo, therefore the best way to keep our girls in schools is to change our mindset about this natural process so that girls can build a better and healthier future for themselves and for the coming generations.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

Downloads

Comments

Sharontina's picture

Taboo

Dear Mukut, You have brought out a very serious issue, a deep rooted one yet remaining unnoticed and senseless through the eyes of our politicians. Only during the times of election they come up with the campaigns and awareness programs and rest of the time the practice follows. Yes i believe that in every state and district awareness campaigns and policies are to be set up. And i feel that NGOs are to play a vital role in meeting the schools and neighbourhoods to break the taboo.

Merlin Sharontina

Mukut's picture

You are absolutely right

You are so right about the election part. Have you noticed the new election campaigns/ads of the ruling party which are out now. Absolute eyewash, i say.

Yes, the taboo regarding menstruation is deep rooted, to say the least. Would you believe if i tell you that one of my friends in Mumbai, refused to go to a temple with me once, as she was having her period. I was shocked. This stems from deep rooted mindset and what we are taught as children. I find it appalling to believe that i am "dirty" or unclean just because i am having my menses. So utterly stupid and disgusting. Frequent ads, better campaigns, availability of cheaper sanitary napkins to girls, are important steps to be taken to change this mindset.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Lots of love ,

Mukut Ray

Wendyiscalm's picture

MUKUT

Hi Mukut,

You've done it again. Your article is fabulous. It goes into so many areas that I know are true. You have written it in a manner that is, I don't want to say entertaining, but it is interesting. in such a manner that makes us want to start thinking of ways to help. You know, I may be wrong, but the way I have gained success in any endeavor that is not "moving" and that is not getting anywhere is to think of an unusual way to go about it or get it done. Sort of what we call in America "coming in the back door" when no one is looking because everyone is looking out the front door. I wonder if, to evoke change, if we could find something "unorthodox" in terms of working towards solution and change. A challenge that might work.

There is a guy who calls himself Hillary24 on WP. He lives in Zimbabwe. His name is Otto but I call him Zim Man. He is reaching out to reduce domestic violence through street bands because the men like the music and through this he is getting his message accross. Now I have suggested he start a men's empowerment group, sort of quietly move forward that way too and have put him in touch with a man in Livingstone Zambia that has a men's empowerment group. I thought his street band approach was innovative. While not the whole answer, he is getting men's attention.

Love ya,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Mukut's picture

My dearest Wendy

Wendy, you have always been very sweet and kind. Thank you.

Love,

Mukut Ray

ikirimat's picture

Mukut, I am glad to read the

Mukut,
I am glad to read the experience of India in menstrual management and its gaps and challenges. I shared the Uganda experience too on my pulsewire journal which you may find relevant for information exchange. (Moon-days for adolescent girls.
Lets keep exploring until we find a lasting solution to the problems we seek to address.
Regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Mukut's picture

I am thrilled to

I am thrilled to hear from you dear ! Thank you for reading my post and for your invaluable feedback. I look forward to reading your post on menstrual management in Uganda.

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

Sutanuka Banerjee's picture

Wonderful Job :)

Keep it up

I live in my convoluted mind....

Mukut's picture

Thank you

Thank you so much :)

Love,

Mukut Ray

Sangita Thapa's picture

No better in Nepal! :(

Dear Mukut, the situation is no better in Nepal too. During menstrual periods, girls (especially Brahmin and Chhetri, but also in some indigenous communities) are considered impure and untouchable. The taboo and shame attached with it affects girls in a negative way giving psycho-social trauma especially in their puberty, when they must be tended with support and affection. Thank you for discussing this mostly unseen and unnoticed issue. The solutions are vital for the healthy future of girls.

Mukut's picture

Yes Sangita

Yes, i hear you. The taboo part is especially strong in Asia and Africa. Sad ! Needs to change.

Thank you my dearest friend for your feedback.

Love,

Mukut Ray

Price of Silence's picture

Great article! I am the

Great article! I am the artistic director of Price of Silence theatre collective for women's rights in New York. One way of breaking these taboo's is to act out the ridiculousness of the taboo. Bring to life the absurdity which the taboo brings to people's minds. Physicalize in a small play for an audience. You can perform small ten minute plays in which you set the menstrual cycle as the central conflict, have men walk in, and perform ridiculous responses, pretending to know you have your period.This way the audience see's the ridiculousness of the responses of the male actors. In so doing they are forced to consider their own behavior towards the taboo. Your small performance becomes a mirror of their own behavior. Then they see that nothing can hurt them from the taboo, and they n longer want to seem ridiculous, so they change. Then have an educated man just walk in an sit down next to the lead female performer. When he doesn't respond, you respond to him. This gets the audience to see how the educated male doesn't even notice. They want to emulate that behavior, so they act it out in their own lives. Something along these lines, because theatre is a cultural conduit in which you create you ideas for audience, peers to consume. So, by creating the culture, you empower yourself and other women.

Just an idea. Either way, great work.

Wendyiscalm's picture

Hi

Hi
I LOVE your idea. Although you are writing to Mukut I have to respond because you make so much sense and it is practical, short and easy. I know it will be impactful. I live in Chicago, have an NGO in Livingstone Zambia but went to school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC when I was younger, did some off broadway and was a tv weather girl. I know you are right about this. I love that you are taking something concrete and giving a specific action rather than just encouragement.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

It's great to meet you too. I have a lot of friends who went ADA, and AMDA. I would love to here more about your organization, perhaps as we develop we could be of assistance. Here is an example of our work on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_So55a8ztk

Are you on facebook?

Wendyiscalm's picture

This is neat !

Great to hear from you.

Have the flu so you are blessed - this will be short. Ask Mukut, my messages are usually long - too long - Haha !

I'll look at your you tube and read your profile and get back to you when I am feeling better. It will be fun to see how we can help each other, even if it is only through our mutual knowledge and love of our passion.

Ubuntu(I am who I am because of who we are together).

Keep up the great work.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Mukut's picture

Great Idea

Great idea ! i loved the way you put it, " this way the audience see's the ridiculousness of the response of the male actors."

Yes, maybe this way the whole absurd ridiculousness of the taboo attached to menstruation might change. Thank you for this amazing idea :)

Love,

Mukut Ray

Mukut's picture

Amazing idea !

Great idea ! i loved the way you put it, " this way the audience see's the ridiculousness of the response of the male actors."

Yes, maybe this way the whole absurd ridiculousness of the taboo attached to menstruation might change. Thank you for this amazing idea :)

Love,

Mukut Ray

Mukut Ray

Wendyiscalm's picture

You keep on doing it, Mukut

Mukut,

How is it going?

I keep thinking of you as the young lady who forges ahead and never gives up. You have a way about you that makes us think and that makes people want to follow you. What a gift!

With that in mind, I am just writing to offer my support for your work and your topic about menstruation at the moment. So important and I admire you and the others who keep the topic and problem in our face.

Love and Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Mukut's picture

Amazing You

Thank you and love you :)

Mukut Ray

LatiNegra's picture

thank you for this post.

thank you for this post. menstruation is also a taboo in the united states, even with the access to sanitary napkins. it's more of a shame and demonizing here. thank you for speaking on the harm it causes young girls, especially emotionally and psychologically.

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Mukut's picture

Hey LatiNegra

Hello !!!

First of all congratulations on being selected in the top 31 for VOF 2013 !!

I must say i am a bit shocked to hear that menstruation is a taboo topic even in the States!! That just proves that how much work we need to do together, sister !

I am with you.

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

LatiNegra's picture

Congrats to you too! May I

Congrats to you too! May I recommend a great book called "The Red Tent"? It is a novel about menstruation and its ancient view.

It is a taboo subject here, and more troubling to me, the emotional part of our cycles are demonized. We are taught to be ashamed and feel dirty as well. It's really very sad how repressed we are around this important part of our lives.

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Mukut's picture

Thank you

Many thanks for recommending the book.

Looking forward to sharing and learning from you more.

Love n hugs

Mukut Ray

Wendyiscalm's picture

Hi

hi Mukut,

Yes, menstruation in the USA is a little embarrassing depending on where you live. But it is nothing like in your country and other countries. Here a boy might make fun of you or give you a look but it is mild compared to other places. At least it is where I live in Chicago. At least we have access to snitary pads AND we can learn to be discrete and not let anyone know we are having our period. The only time I have seen it a problem is if girls have their period and are at the swimming pool because with pads you can't go in the sater so people may figure out why not. BUT now we mostly use tampons anyway so we can swim and no one has to know and we can flush the tampons down the toilet. Do you know what tampons are?

When this happened to me as a young girl I was humiliated and embarrassed BUT I figure whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I used it as my inside wome to say "Someday I'll show you how great I am. I will rise above you". Menstruation as with anything in life: You can be a victim or a victor. That is not to say I do not have compassion and sympathy for waht so many girls go through I do. But let's RISE ABOVE IT instead of bending to it.

Love,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Y's picture

Dear Mukut, I have just

Dear Mukut,
I have just finished reading your journal entries, and I am very impressed with your writing. More than this, I am impressed with the way you reason. You have taken up some of the most incendiary topics in the world of women with courage and research on which your words can stand.

I am not good at weaving research into my writing, probably because in the world of women's conversation in my generation, facts were never considered as good as anecdotal evidence. Women of my age still shun me when I become "scientific." My mother believed that education caused arrogance and punished me for entering male arenas of educated discussion.

The challenge I see in women making an impact is that males are masters at ignoring emotion, usually by turning it into anger and aggression. They are also very good at drawing emotion out of women, often by bullying and other forms of abuse, as a way to discontinue discussions that make them uncomfortable. Unless and until we are willing to take our discussions out of the emotional realms, we will continue to fail at changing the patriarchal societies. Blessings on your parents for encouraging you to develop and share you mind.

The subject of menstrual taboos has long interested me. I have not been able to find empirical evidence of where they first originated, but I have some theories, based on my research. I wonder if they were originally fears based on the hunters being afraid that the smell of blood would draw predators. I also wonder if women didn't often use these taboos to their advantage in order to be given several days of rest.

I find that explaining our habits of today, based on historical facts and theories is a way to weave a story that leads to reasons for change. Many rituals based on the reasoning of our ancestors may have had some validity historically, but are no longer applicable in our more enlightened and scientific society.

We have a joke in my home: A family was seated at a holiday meal. The grown daughter turns to her mother and asks, "Mother, I noticed that when you cook the ham, you always cut both ends off. Why do you do this?" The mother replies, "Because my mother always prepared her ham in this way." The next time the mother spoke to her own mother, she said, "Mother, ever since I was a child, you always cut both ends off the ham before cooking it. My daughter has asked me why this is necessary." The grandmother laughed and replied, "The only pan I had wasn't large enough to hold the whole ham." This is how it is with rituals that are not understood or questioned.

That you for being a roaring voice that is asking why we do things.

Here is a link to a very good article on the history of the taboos:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/20776809/Menstrual-Taboos-in-Religions-and-Cul...

Y

Mukut's picture

Wow! I am thrilled

Dearest Y,

I am thrilled to receive such an extended reply to my post. Thank you for going through my journals and taking the time to read them. I am constantly trying to improve my writing skills, so that i can do full justice to the passionate voice, that screams to come out. I feel the need to tell a lot of stories, especially those which are often unspoken, unheard of here in India.

You are absolutely right when you say that men often intimidate us by reminding constantly that we are weak and our voices do not matter. I have educated male friends of mine who still, unabashedly, believe in victim blaming and slut shaming. It is sad and unfortunate that the mindset remains the same, regressive and misogynistic.

I also agree that some rituals may have been valid and timely in the past, but does not hold any ground now.We have to stop following them blindly.

Your example of cutting the ham at both ends, is perfect to explain the phenomena of following something blindly, without questioning the logic.

Thank you again so much for your perspective on this. Your voice encourages me to do more.

I shall definitely look into that link. Thank you for sharing.

Much love,

Mukut Ray

Y's picture

Until we all respect the womb

Until we all respect the womb as a sacred space, from which life comes, neither males nor females will appreciate how damaging it is to enter it without respect. Until boys are taught to respect their own sperm's potential and power to produce that which is sacred or sin, the world will not see sex as sacred. I would love to see rape, especially of a virgin, punishable by castration or death.

We have been taught that awe is the same fear. We, as animals, naturally fear what we don't understand. Men have been taught to attack that which they fear. Women often bond with the abusers believing that they will be protected by them, only to have these same abusers turn on them and their offspring.

We women must educate each other and our boys about ourselves and themselves, but many cultures shame boys for listening to a woman's voice. These same cultures also give boys and girls easy ways to avoid conversation with sex. The only way I know to change this is to insist that a man who wants to relate to me honor me with sitting face-to-face and having respectful dialog with me. I also do much study in order to be able to have intelligent, respectful conversations. My access to the internet is the greatest tool I have for equalizing my education with that of my husband.

Your words are treasures. Keep on teaching those boys, not only about women's sacredness, but about men's sacred seed as treasures to be guarded.

Y

Mukut's picture

Powerful words!

Yes, i too involve myself in studies and books just to have proper and intelligent resources to answer some of the men, who just refuse to see us as equals. I love to sit with books, online and offline, and read as much as i can. That is the best possible way to arm ourselves with knowledge. Access to internet is amazing in that manner and helps me to connect with fabulous women (like you) and share more.

Your words are inspiring. I will continue to teach not only the boys but also my entire community to respect us, because it is US who makes them.

Thank you so much for writing in.

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

Y's picture

A possible solution: Maybe

A possible solution:
Maybe online study for girls banned from the classroom could be offered, or even mandated.

Y

innerdelight's picture

Congratulations

Hi Mukut,

First of all, congratulations for being selected as one of the voices of the future program!
With your wonderful writing style and bringing awareness to topics which have been taboo for so long, what a blessing you are!

Keep on shining your beautiful light through your words!

joyful blessings, Tina

Mukut's picture

Lovely words

Tina,

Your lovely words made my day. It is such a joy to be part of this program and knowing that there are people like you who always support.

You are an amazing soul. Thank you so much.

Lots of love to you. Look forward to more interactions with you.

Hugs

Mukut Ray

innerdelight's picture

Amazingness

Hi Mukut,

thank you! From one amazing soul to another;)
if I can support you with anything, let me know.
I look forward to more sharing with you as well.

Have a great day and many joyful blessings,
Tina

Mukut's picture

Lovely

Thank you so much.

Love and have a lovely weekend.

Mukut Ray

Check this out, in a blogpost I've written summarizing approaches to menstrual hygiene management around the world. Your powerful voice is there! Thank you, Mukut.
http://www.womensglobaltoolkit.com/2013/06/picture-of-week-sanitary-pads...

Betsy Teutsch - 100 Under $100
www.womensglobaltoolkit.com

Mukut's picture

Your essay is fantastic !

Dear Betsy,

I loved reading your essay. In depth analysis coupled with pictures is a great way to put across your point.

Truly appreciate your effort in taking time out to read mine and incorporating it in your essay. Thank you so much.

Look forward to more interactions with you.

Love,

Mukut Ray

Betsy Teutsch's picture

thanks!

It was hard to write. Each of the 100 entries will be only 1 or 2 pages, and this is an enormous topic with so many different approaches, and so much I needed to leave out. The biggest surprise was that there is no study that proves that pads alone help keep girls in school, and that education can be equally effective. But I say, do both!
I am so excited to find WorldPulse and be able to let Global South women speak for themselves.

Betsy Teutsch - 100 Under $100
www.womensglobaltoolkit.com

Mukut's picture

Yes, do both

You are right when you say that we should do both. In India, girls from rural families, often keep out their girls from attending schools once they attain puberty. At ( government/ public )schools, they have mostly one common toilet for both girls and boys. Girls often complain of feeling shy, getting teased and unsanitary conditions prevailing in such toilets. Hence the drop out rates for girls reaching puberty, suddenly gets higher.

We also need to look at providing proper, clean and separate toilets for girls and women at their own homes and outside (schools/ colleges). Here in some villages, women need to travel for long distances, just to defecate or urinate. Lack of toilets at their home, forces them to travel to the fields alone, and on the way, they get raped and molested.

The situation is especially grim in some of the slums in India.

Therefore, the problem is definitely bigger than we think. It is inter linked to many other prevailing problems. Let us continue to speak about them and inform the people.

Yes, WP allows us to do that.

Regarding the machine, no i have not seen it myself but have only read about it.

Thank you again so much for your time and patience in replying. Appreciate it.

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

Betsy Teutsch's picture

A.Muruganantham

PS - have you seen one of his machines in use? I would love an eyewitness report, and a great photo!

Betsy Teutsch - 100 Under $100
www.womensglobaltoolkit.com

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Letters to a Better World

Letters to a Better World

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

World Pulse Launches our Inaugural Community Advisory Board!

World Pulse Launches our Inaugural Community Advisory Board!

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative