We might find ourselves in the midst of a fairly progressive 21st century, but somehow something as natural as menstruation still triggers too many. The deep-rooted stigma attached to it for centuries has led to periods being labelled as “impure” in many parts of the world, but especially in Asian culture. Under the ‘impurity’ tag, society has for years imposed a number of restrictions on women, keeping them away temples, from kitchens, and in many parts, even from homes.
A 21-year-old Nepali woman is the latest victim of this regressive practise. Parwati Bogati, who was made to sleep in a ‘menstrual hut’ situated away from her home, died due to asphyxiation due to fumes. According to reports, Parwati had lit a fire to keep herself warm from the biting cold and suffocated in the windowless hut. This comes just a few weeks after another 35-year-old Nepali woman and her two children died in a menstrual hut.
This practise, known as ‘Chhaupadi’, was banned in Nepal in 2005 and criminalised in 2017. Under the law, anyone who forces a woman to a menstrual shed can be penalised with Rs 3,000 or imprisonment of three months.
In India, in November 2018, a 12-year-old girl in a Tamil Nadu village died during Cyclone Gaja as she was forced to stay in a thatched barn during her periods. This was the girl’s first periods, something all women would tell you can be an especially difficult phase to tackle on one’s own.
Segregation to an isolated hut with little regard for hygiene and access to sanitary products can have a severe impact on women’s mental health. It is common for women to use clothes, newspapers or even leaves and twigs during their periods. The stigma that surrounds the concept of menstruation has made it impossible to create a debate in the public discourse and has limited it as a ”women’s problem”.
After the Supreme Court lifted ban on women of menstruating age enter Sabarimala Temple, we’ve all had to endure public discourse from many, including several senior political leaders, ‘explaining’ how menstruation is an impurity and women of menstruating age ought not be allowed inside the temple premises. Forty steps forward, eighty back?
Unless we include men in the conversation and educate them on how menstruation is about as natural as breathing, that menstrual hygiene is not a ‘women’s issue’ and that neither period blood nor sanitary pads are things to be kept hidden, till we do not raise our men and women to treat the female body as ‘normal’, we might continue battling this stigma for a long time.