Breaking Cultural Taboos and Busting the Myths around Menstruation
Menstruation is a normal phenomenon in a woman of reproductive age, in which a single egg is released each month from one ovary and passes to the uterus (also known as womb) through the Fallopian tube. Before the egg is released from ovary, the uterus builds up its lining with extra blood and tissue in preparation. If egg is not fertilized by sperm, the ruptured tissue and blood exits from vagina, forming the menstrual discharge. Menstrual period is also known as (mahvari, menses or tareek).
During my Community Health Clinical Rotations, I visited a community which was comprised of lower or middle class families with various health issues. I visited a family of 4 members: a married couple with their 2 daughters, one aged 12 years and the other, 15 years.
I took a complete health history from the mother. Furthermore, I asked about her menstrual cycle. She stated that, “I have an irregular menstruation i.e. heavy flow for 8-9 days”, she further elaborated, and “I didn’t take bath during my menses”. I asked her reason for this and she told me, “While taking bath during menstrual cycle, it causes heavy bleeding and leads to weakness”. She further stated that she had told her daughters to follow the same instructions for their rest of their lives.
During the interview I observed that when one of her daughters went to the kitchen, the mother suddenly stopped her and said, “Stay away from kitchen as you have menses these days so that will damage the pickle”. Reflecting on the above scenario I was amazed that in the 21st century some people are still living with several myths regarding menstruation which need to be dispelled.
What are the reasons behind this misconception? And what is the reality? Are they aware of reality? Myth 1: A bath during menstrual flow intensifies cramps, increases blood flow and leads to weakness. Fact: It’s perfectly fine to take a bath during your periods. In fact it is very essential to do so for hygienic reasons. Bleeding or spotting during a bath is normal and there is no reason to be alarmed about it.
Unhygienic practices can further lead to foul smell from vagina, urinary tract infection (UTI), vaginal rashes and other reproductive tract infection (Tarhane, & Kasulkar, 2015). This above fact clearly stated that maintaining hygienic practices during menstruation is vital for women’s well-being, mobility, and dignity. Menstrual hygiene is important and one of the ways to prevent from reproductive tract infections (RTI), improper protection and inadequate washing practices can increase the incidence rate of infection. According to Ramaswamy, in 2016, the incidence of RTI was 70% more common among women following unhygienic sanitary practices.
Myth 2: vicinity of menstruating women will spoil wine, bread, pickle and other food items. Fact: none of the scientific research shows menstruating women is the reason for spoilage of food. As long as general hygiene is maintained, menstruating women can handle food. There are several myths among people in different countries based on their cultural belief. According to “menstrual hygiene matter” the survey had done which shows statistics of restrictions on girls during their menstrual period in Afghanistan, India, Iran and Nepal (Mahon, Cavill, & House, 2012).
Pondering over the above statistics, I wonder what are the reasons behind them? According to a survey of educational status of mothers in 2016, among illiterate mothers 28% were aware of menarche, whereas in the literate, 32% were similarly aware. This shows that one of the reasons was lack of awareness among mothers (Kumar, Kansal & Singh, 2016).
In the above discussion we discussed only 2 myths, whereas there are several other myths prevailing in people’s minds which have negative impact on reproductive health of adolescent girls and women. To combat this issue, the first most important action is raising awareness among mothers through awareness campaigns in school or in community setting.
In addition due to limited knowledge and cultural taboo women may be shy about open discussion of this issue. Schools should arrange educational sessions on menstruation for teachers as well as for girls about biological fact and good hygienic practices, instead of passing untrue cultural beliefs. Empowerment of women can only be accomplished by enhancing their literacy rate which enables them to involve in discussion and provide them a platform to understand and distinguish between myth and biological fact.
Increasing involvement of the male spouses in awareness campaigns and clearing their misconceptions regarding menstruation is important too so that they can provide support to their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, employees and peers for combating this deep rooted social belief and cultural taboos. Thus it is becoming clear that this issue needed multi-faceted approach.
In conclusion, menstruation is one of the natural phenomenon among all post-pubertal girls and women so discussing about this issue is certainly not a depravity. Rather if we ignore this issue due to cultural taboos and ancestors belief many might suffer serious health related consequences. Hence, as individuals and a community, we need to address this issue to support women empowerment. Further research is recommended to identify the source of problem more methodically and thus plan effective interventions.
Anand, T., & Garg, S. (2015). Menstruation related myths in India: Strategies for combating it. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4408698/
Kumar, A., Kansal, S., & Singh, S. (2016). Menstrual hygiene practices in context of schooling: A community study among rural adolescent girls in Varanasi https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4746952/
Mahon, S., Cavill, M., & House, S. (2012). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. Wateraid.org. http://www.wateraid.org/~/media/Files/Global/MHM%20files/Compiled_LR.ashx
Memon, k. (2014). 5 myths about menstruation – The Express Tribune. The Express Tribune. https://tribune.com.pk/story/737050/5-myths-about-menstruation/
Tarhane, S., & Kasulkar, A. (2015). Awareness of Adolescent Girls Regarding Menstruation and Practices https://www.innovativepublication.com/admin/uploaded_files/PJMS_Vol_5(1)_29-32.pdf
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