Breaking menstruation taboo
We are part of the society where menstruation is a social taboo – imagining my daughters being stigmatised scares me as a father. This could be one of the reasons that motivates me to actively engage in the discussions on menstruation issues. Among others – I see men’s and boys’ role on leading the change on menstruation issues. The change has to start from home – it is where men and boys potentially can make a difference.
At my office, I have observed significant progress on how we approach menstruation issues. We are now discussing and addressing beyond the menstruation hygiene management – where access to water and sanitation facilities to maintain hygiene is essential and is a precondition for our approach. We have tested our approach also while discussing social stigma and taboos – women and girls on dignified menstrual health and hygiene management – no more whispering. On the occasion of International Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May – we reflected on the progress and our experience over the year – the good and the odds.
Menstruation Hygiene Day 2018 was celebrated with tag line #nomorelimits. This illustrated no limitations or restrictions during menstruation including everyone, everywhere. Nepal marked the day with a slogan – ‘Enough is enough, let’s break the limit of menstruation’. Nepal observed many proactive and innovative campaigns from different organisations and platforms. The government has developed policy on Dignified Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management and is waiting for the formal endorsement from the cabinet. The current Ministry of Water Supply is being led by a woman minister – three cheers to her for expressing her strong commitments on policy front in different forums for better menstrual hygiene management. This is also providing additional enabling environment for the policy commitments and its potential implementation.
We have continued our focus on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in the communities and the schools. MHM in school includes proper facilities, products, awareness, education and support necessary for girls to manage their menstrual periods away from home. A movement has started and is growing – bringing forth the topic into public discourses and addressing menstruation as a normal part of being female.
In the projects our male colleagues have continued being instrumental as change agents on leading hygiene promotion work and initiating menstrual hygiene discourses in the communities. They are in real terms contributing to social transformation through comprehensive behavioural change communication. It has been inspiring to see these men coming to the forefront and discussing openly on the issue. We believe better delivery has been possible by male working in tandem with female colleagues.
However, there is no limitation to the challenges. In a recent meeting, one of the male colleagues approached me. He said, “I have to reach home early today – as I have to cook for the coming five days.” I immediately understood that his wife is on periods and is restricted from entering the kitchen. It was not the first time I had heard this. It has continued for generations – deeply rooted in the social norms.
Cooking good food for the family would be a satisfaction and a hobby or expertise for some men. However, this case was different. I asked myself, “Are we not silently accepting the discrimination at home? If it happens in the educated families, families with the exposures on development and in cities like Kathmandu – the extent of discrimination in rural and remote parts of the country where social stigmas are above all other norms is easily understood.
This year too we read about several wanton life-threatening incidents that took place during the isolation in menstruating period “chhau” such as snakebites, rape and other sexual violence, which could have been averted otherwise. In some rural communities menstruating girls and women are kept out of the house and are forced to live in cattle sheds or makeshift huts away from their homes. This temporary exile lasts four to seven days every month.
Even in many cities I listen to comments such as – ‘It’s only a three-day issue’ or observing girls and women taking food in the remote corner away from regular place is common. So, discrimination does exist in urban areas too but in different forms. Persisting opinions and social stigma are simply ignoring the scale of the problems such as psychological impacts on women and girls limiting their potential capacity for overall development and growth. Girls are missing school days, thus compromising the quality education and some even drop out of schools.
Menstruation management is affected by factors such as limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options forcing many to manage their periods uncomfortably and un-hygienically. It has already been evident that increased access to water and sanitation facilities in the schools are effective in keeping girls in school. In addition, MHM plays a fundamental role in enabling young women and girls to reach their full potential in education.
I was discussing with male colleagues on how we could contribute to change the stigmas at home. A recent Bollywood movie “Pad Man” has nicely depicted how men could be agents in leading the changes in the society. We often hear that the mother set the social and cultural norms at home guided by the practices she experienced in her life. However, the father or the son is influential to convince his wife or mother to break the silent or evident discriminations at home against their daughter and daughter-in-laws.
Women and girls need to be able to manage their menstruation in all areas of life – at home, in school, at work and during travels. It is fair to say that managing menstruation with normalcy and dignity remains a challenge. Social stigma and taboos around menstruation are propagated by the society as a whole. Therefore, it is critical to have conversation with all concerned and at all levels including with men and boys to foster a supportive environment for women and girls.
It is crucial for men to break away from traditional social norms and discuss openly about menstruation for women and girls to manage their menstruation normally and in a dignified way. This will definitely contribute to averting life-threatening incidents including death and sexual violence. I ascertain that with our unified efforts at different levels and wide engagement all together we will be able to smash the taboos about menstruation and support dignified life of our daughters.
The writer is with DanChurchAid.
Published on 13 July 2018
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