There are deep controversies about the history of menstruation and exactly when the taboos were established but it often leads to the exclusion of women from social, domestic, and educational activities. Many religions, cultures and regions view menstruation differently but we want to highlight a few instances where women have been ostracised because of their menstrual cycle.
Jane Ussher, professor of Women's Health Psychology at Western Sydney University, said
"periods have long been associated with dirt, and disgust, and shame, and some might say fear”.
There has also been a great impact from religious texts which often describe menstruation as ‘impure’. For example, in the Torah (Leviticus 15:19-30), a menstruating female is considered ritually unclean.
Here are a few examples of period stigma around the world...
The taboo in India has been present for many years and many would argue that it is still, to date, a pressing issue. In the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating and must be “purified” before being allowed to return to her family. They are not allowed to get involved in food preparation as they are viewed as unclean. There are also restrictions on which rooms can be entered and whether religious prayers can be joined whilst menstruating.
Until recent years, Nepalanese women were subject to chhaupadi, the practice of exiling women from their homes to bare-bones huts or sheds during menstruation because they are believed to be "unclean." While sleeping in the huts, women are at risk of physical assault, freezing temperatures, snake bites and suffocation because of lack of ventilation. Several women died each year due to this practice. Although forcing women into menstrual huts was criminalised in 2018, the law has not yet proven to be an effective deterrent. A Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters journal published just last year found that 77% of west-central Nepali girls and young women actively practice menstrual exile, based on a survey of 400 14-to-19-year-olds. While 60% of them were aware that chhaupadi is illegal, that knowledge made them no less likely to practice it.
There is still a lot of work to do and this definitely isn’t just a third world country problem. ActionAid’s research reveals that more than one in three (37%) of UK women have experienced period shaming, through things like bullying, isolation or jokes about it being ‘that time of the month’. On our Instagram account, we asked our followers whether they felt confident walking around with sanitary products in a shop or to the bathroom. Half of our respondents voted ‘no’ but that they wish they were. We really hope that one day, we can all walk with no shame.
Globally, the menstrual stigma is perpetrated by cultural taboos, lack of education, silence and period poverty. In order to eradicate the menstrual stigma, we must #normaliseperiodtalk!