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Menstruation is part of life. Period!

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“One of the biggest power a woman has over a man is the ability to bleed without being wounded. That too, month after month.”

Rama Moondra: Menstruation, the reproductive health of women and feminine hygiene products are subjects that are considered taboo and seldom discussed openly. The orthodox mindset of the people (not just men) and the society at large, combined with the lack of scientific knowledge, have resulted in women suffering in silence for centuries.

But, an unexpected thing happened last month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on feminine hygiene products during his address to the nation on Independence Day—a move that was appreciated across India. The Prime Minister’s decision to speak on the issue was a welcome change that sparked a lot of discussion on the issue.

Experts have time and again explained that menstruation is a natural and biological process, just like eating and sleeping. Yet the shame, stigma and misconceptions attached to it are still prevalent. Feminine hygiene products are whispered in the ears, never spoken aloud. In fact, young girls take a break from school during menstruation.

Advertisements of sanitary napkins always show blue ink instead of a bloodstain. Uncomfortable chemists pack sanitary napkins in newspapers and in opaque packaging and hand it to an equally embarrassed woman asking for it.

In fact, in many communities, women are ill-treated during menstruation. They are considered ‘impure’ and are excluded from religious, social and even day-to-day routine activities. In fact, women are not allowed to enter the kitchen in some households.

According to Dr Atul Munshi, a gynaecologist, menstrual blood is as safe as blood from any other part of the human body. The gynaecologist explained that menstrual blood is not contaminated as many people think and it is simply blood, cells and tissue from the uterine endometrial lining.

If we delve into the origin of the stigma and misconceptions associated with menstruation, we will find that India is not the only country to suffer from a draconian belief system of considering menstruation as evil.

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Roman author Pliny the Elder had written: “Contact with menstrual blood turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”

In 1919, Professor B Schick wrote about “mentotoxins” in the menstrual flow that could spoil wines and wither the flowers.  And if you thought, this was it? In 1981, British courts acquitted two women from charges of murder and attempt to murder. The reason was PMS which remained a legal defense at par with insanity through the 1980s.

A study done by Harvard Health and supported by a few more research institutions suggests that female workforce participation in India was 21 per cent in 2019. The figure is comparable to the Arab world and is amongst the lowest in the world, according to the World Bank data modelled on International Labour Organisation estimates released on June 21, 2020. The global average of women in the workforce is 47 per cent, with neighbouring Nepal having 83 per cent working women, Bangladesh 36 per cent and China 60 per cent.

Women are trying hard to break the stereotype image of being the lesser paid and less skilled worker in every sector. Right from manufacturing to the service sector and from start-ups to the technology sector, women are breaking the shackles of male dominance. They are getting employed in top leadership positions and the government is doing its bit in empowering women.

Now, what does a usual employer looks for while hiring? Employers always want to employ a productive person, regardless of gender, who won’t have an emotional or physical breakdown each time they get periods. If we are talking about an equal opportunity perfect world, we would also need to differentiate between taboos, physical well-being and emotional quotient of women.

(The author is a visiting faculty of IIMs and a master mentor with Centre’s Startup India Initiative)

 

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