Time to get over the mental menopause

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 11 Feb 2018 11:12:59

By Maithili Bisne

It is not very often that mainstream Bollywood comes out with socially thought-provoking and compelling stories. This Friday it made an exception with the release of Akshay Kumar’s Padman, a story inspired by the life of a social activist from Tamil Nadu, Arunachalam Muruganantham. But we are not discussing the film, just happy with the choice of subject- A subject that is still considered a taboo in our multiple satellite launching and international CEOs generating India. How, even today, when words like PMS, puberty, menopause or sanitary napkins enter sentences, the conversations suddenly bleed volume. Why all the hush hush over something that is so natural and perfectly normal?

Statistics say that there are over 355 million menstruating women and girls in India and it is an appalling number of people to be feeling sick or ashamed every passing month. Some failure of the society as a whole, isn’t it? But what else can be expected in a social setup wherein, even today, women are driven away from the kitchens and religious activities for being ‘impure’ during ‘that’ time of the month! The Mahatma may have rid a section of the society from the bane, but several lakhs of women in India continue to turn into ‘untouchables’ every month. While it is only wise not to meddle with the religious beliefs and talk of Sabarimalas or Trupti Desais, what about the twisted extensions to the practice that are devoid of any logic or legitimacy?

The disdain meted out to menstruating women by their own families sow the seeds of superiority among the male members of that family. A male child grows up thinking his sister or mother or aunt is sick, while the girl grows up wishing she was a boy. If one can go to a pharmacy and buy an antacid for acidity, why should a woman feel uncomfortable while asking for a pack of napkins over the counter? Why wrap it in a newspaper and stuff in black polythene bags? It is no bomb!

When there is so much secrecy around something it only fuels curiosity among those who do not have access to information (read young boys). Their interpretations then often colours the way they start perceiving a woman. She who ‘falls ill’ every month and is weak, they think, not fathoming the fact that it is she who takes the pain each month and becomes strong enough to bear the future generation in her womb. So while the mothers and doctors make sure the girls are well informed, the boys should also to educated on how it is a perfectly normal bodily function and there is no reason for a woman to feel embarassed, and only then the taboo will be done away with. It is true that the menstrual cycle is one’s private affair and should be handled appropriately, in accordance with the cultural sensibilities, but also without suffocating the female folk underneath the burden of unreasonable shame.

Sorry state of menstrual hygiene in India

Even today, millions of women in India fail to have access to a comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual hygiene management. In 2015, United National Development Programme’s Human Development Report placed India at a deplorable 130th place out of 155 countries in the Gender Inequality Index (GII). India trails behind even lesser developed Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan which rank 111th and 121th respectively.

Girls do not consistently have access to education on puberty and menstrual health. Another survey states that in India, 71% of the girls have no knowledge about menstruation when they get their menarche. Further,an appalling 88 per cent women and girls in India use homemade alternatives as they do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. still their are crores of homes in India that do not have a toilet. Clean, usable public toilets are almost a distant dream.

Thankfully, there are several social organistaions that are tenaciously working towards in facilitating providing safe and healthy menstrual cycles to the women and girls of this country and hopefully, we as a society, also join in sooner than later.