Sunday, April 30, 2017

Banished for Bleeding

This post is inspired by a BBC video, with the same title, posted on FaceBook by a former colleague and friend. The writer is blogging after an absence of a year and the last two posts were on cricket. So this is also an effort to deal with a socially relevant issue.

In India, it is estimated that school girls lose two months of the school annually due to their monthly menses. In parts of Nepal, where this custom has been illegalized since 2005, girls and women are still banished to a cattle shed during menses. Even in the educated urban environment women are shunned for five days during menses as untouchable. They are also excluded from all religious activities and visit to temples. Tied to the ideas of a woman's 'virtue' and 'purity', some religious cultures consider menstruation (a reproductive health element) religiously impure and ceremonially unclean.

The medical definition of menses is the flow of blood that comes from a woman's body each month. Menstruation is caused when the ovaries start to produce female hormones in girls around puberty which cause changes in the lining of the uterus. Every month, during the Period, the lining of the womb is shed, together with some blood. The time between the start of one period and the start of the next is known as the menstrual cycle. The bleeding May last from 2 to 7.days. Menopause, when the menstrual cycle ends, occurs usually between the ages of 45 and 55. So this is all a natural biological function within the female body.

For those who adhere to "natural methods of birth control", the menstrual cycle can be used to achieve pregnancy during periods identified as fertile or to avoid pregnancy during fertile days. Of course, this natural method of birth control which employs unprotected sex, is not as reliable as more modern methods such as IUD, pill or condom.

The point being made here is that it is high time that we, men and women, discard the stigma of menses and consider it as natural a phenomenon as child-birth. The term menses was first used in 1597; let us step out of the 16th century! In fact, in ancient England, the start of a girl's menstruation was called rather glowingly "flowering" and a flowered girl was ready for marriage. Of course we don't want to go that far and condone child marriage.


Dr. Gupta, Deepak said...

Excellently portrayed story of a girl/woman who so typically undergo such socio-cultural atrocities in the name of "menses". During my field missions, I even found that girls from humble background do not have access to sanitary-napkins and hence, they use worn-out pieces of old cloths. They wash it and reuse. So much so, these girls/woman do not even have a 'right to access little patch of Sun shine'. Obviously, drying up of re-used home-made sanitary clothing under the Sun would be seen by passers-by and next-door neighbors, causing embarrassment to the family. In the end, the partly wet piece of cloths used as sanitary-napkins result in causing serious infections in the women's private parts - further adding to the misery.
Excellent piece of writing, Birat. Very apt and timely. This issue needs a lot more advocacy (political, faith leaders, media and community based NGOs).

Birat Simha said...

Thank you for your perceptive comment, Deepak.

Subodh Rana said...

Welcome back to Blogger after a hiatus.

The stigma harks back to the unknown and with education such practices will be uprooted just as suttee and slavery.

It would be interesting to research when in the evolution of Hinduism did this occur as Hindu female deities are revered by their adherents without any stigma attached to them on this score.

Govind said...

Well written article and welcome back to blogging.
This century old superstition will slowly disappear only if our elders and religious 'gurus' condemn this practice.But what amazes me is older women in the village ,more than the men enforce this custom on their daughters and granddaughters .

Birat Simha said...

Subodh Dai, yes education will help but it is a slow process in our tradition-bound society. As Deepak has commented, the availability of sanitary pads immediately will help young girls, who do not want to miss school or other activities, use them. As for research, you are the expert; perhaps your next blog can be on this.

Govind, yes it is unfortunate that rural older women enforce this practice. Perhaps they cannot forget their own experience and thrust it blindly on their daughters and granddaughters. I think the solution, again, is availability of easily accessible inexpensive sanitary pads. Younger women and girls know how advantageous these would be and would use them.

Buddha Basnyat said...

As Govid says great to see you blogging again. At this moment in time more than the "flowering" caused by this natural event, important as it may be, I am just very glad that we are able to read your well-articulated writing.

Birat.Simha said...

Thank you, Buddha.

Horton said...

Good to see you are blogging again.
Several temples in India don't allow women for this reason. There is now a strong movement to change peoples thinking - and with success in some places so there is hope yet!

Birat Simha said...

Glad there is some success in India, but I'm sure there's a long way to go, just like in Nepal. While on the subject of temples, there are some in India and a major one in Kathmandu where only Hindus are allowed. This exclusivity also needs to be done away with.