Let’s End the Hesitation Around Menstruation

Ashey Aunna Behringer_Allison - #menstruationmatters

Deepali Lacy Scharfstein_Rebecca - #menstruationmatters

The Pasand Team participated in #menstruationmatters, a global campaign to raise awareness about menstrual health and hygiene.

To this day, I blush when I say “menstruation.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard teenage girls refer to their periods as their “friend,” too embarrassed to utter the word “period.” Although menstruation is our “friend,” it doesn’t always feel that way. Societies around the world have deemed menstruation a “taboo topic,” limiting access to knowledge about menstrual hygiene management, and restricting women from participating in a variety of activities during their period.

Motivated to start a healthy and open conversation on menstruation, WASH United spearheaded an effort last year to bring together individuals, organizations, and the media for the first annual Menstrual Hygiene Day, a movement designed to break silence around menstrual hygiene management. Today, we celebrate the 2nd annual Menstrual Hygiene day, appropriately held on May 28th.*

From my work on Pasand, I’ve developed nuanced understanding of “menstrual taboos,” practices that, in this day and age, appear superstitious but are nonetheless commonplace. Although less common in the United States, I’ve met individuals in India who believe that touching pickles while menstruating would spoil them. Sounds silly, right? It’s actually not as silly as it sounds. These so-called-taboos, which are still practiced today, have historical significance that have lost their meaning over time. At Pasand, we call them “traditions,” a term we believe is better suited for what they actually are.

In honor of the 2nd annual Menstrual Hygiene Day, I would like to share some of menstrual traditions we discuss with our students and their historical significance.

  • Tradition 1: Women shouldn’t bathe during menstruation. Many years ago, people use to share public baths (tubs or water sources). It was unhygienic for menstruating women to bathe alongside other women, so women were told they shouldn’t bathe during menstruation. Today, however, bathing is more hygienic. For instance, water runs down a drain and does not contaminate water others use to bathe.
  • Tradition 2: It is harmful to eat eggs or dairy during menstruation. While menstruating, some women experience upset stomachs and, as a result, avoid foods, such as dairy, which might irritate their stomach. However, women whose stomachs are not bothered by eggs or dairy may find the protein helpful in making sure they stay strong and healthy during menstruation.
  • Tradition 3: Women should sleep in a separate area from their family/husband during menstruation. Women work very hard. However, during her period, a woman can feel weak. As a result, women used to sleep separately from the family so that they could have a few days of good rest. Additionally, women slept separately to assuage any concern about staining the bed due to the use of rags to absorb menstrual flow. Today, however, women have healthier diets, fewer children, and access to medicine, so resting as much may not be necessary. Additionally, with a plethora of sanitary products on the market, staining the bed is a lesser concern.
  • Tradition 4: Touching the pickles will spoil them. Back in the day, pickle-making was a very tedious process that could only be done at a certain time of year. As a result, every possible precaution was taken to avoid spoiling. Today, however, many people purchase pre-made pickles, so nothing you do (and no powers you possess) will harm them.

It’s been fascinating to learn about these traditions and trace them back to their origins with my colleagues and students in India. Learning about these traditions has also illuminated just how special menstruation is. At the end of the day, menstruation enables women to procreate, so, while it doesn’t always feel glamorous to menstruate**, my challenge to you is to fully embrace it this year. Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

*Get it? On average, women menstruate for five days out of a 28 day cycle, hence the 5-28 date.

**This also includes all the men out there! Although buying pads/tampons for the women in your life isn’t always fun, it means they’re healthy and normal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: REBECCA SCHARFSTEINScharfstein_Rebecca - white

Born and raised in Boston, I’m a lover of seasons, pumpkin-based dishes, and Head of the Charles Regatta. In addition to being a proud Bostonian, I enjoy reading, spinning, and traveling. While I’m not enjoying all that Boston has to offer, I run a social venture called Pasand that empowers young women in India to make choices for their own health and dignity through top-quality health education. Previously, I worked in economic consulting where I was able to nerd out on data on a daily basis. In addition to my professional experiences, I’m passionate about serving my community and sit on the Board of Trustees of The Rashi School, an independent Jewish school in the Greater Boston Area. I graduated from Princeton with a degree in Public and International Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School and am pursuing an MPP/MBA from Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School.

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