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Menstruation and human rights - why reclaiming dignity during periods is critical to society's success

The 'hush-hush' status society confers on periods only leads to denying thousands of girls and women their fundamental human rights

Published: Mar 30, 2021 05:43:08 PM IST
Updated: Mar 30, 2021 06:33:08 PM IST

Menstruation and human rights - why reclaiming dignity during periods is critical to society's success
Menstruation is not just something that happens to girls and women. Yet, it is looked upon with stigma and condemnation that makes it incredibly challenging for any young girl to manage this time of the month with dignity and privacy. This 'hush-hush' status society confers on only leads to denying thousands of girls and women their fundamental human rights.

But what are these rights? Girls and women everywhere have the basic right to

●     Clean water and sanitation.

●     Be healthy and have a good quality of life.

●     Not being discriminated against.

●     Learning and education.

●     Gender equality.

An in-depth look at human rights

At the elementary level, access to clean water and toilets can make it possible to maintain hygiene levels that will keep girls and women safe from infections and illness. Girls and women who are menstruating are considered dirty or impure and are often kept in  a cordoned off space with little access to sanitation, water or social contact. Many young girls in remote villages even have to brave the elements and sleep outside increasing their risk of infection and illness. Girls are often stopped from socialising with friends, family, not allowed at religious functions in places of worship or even in their home kitchens.

This is thanks to cultural misconceptions that get passed on from generation to generation.

Growing adolescents aren't equipped with managing their menstrual hygiene better and how to treat menstruation-related disorders or pain. Cultural beliefs can even make things worse. E.g. Some communities discourage menstruating people from touching or washing their genitals during menstruation. This leaves hundreds of women vulnerable to infections, pain and discomfort that can be easily avoided.

Several workplaces might be toxic enough to penalise menstruation-related needs like bathroom breaks. Gender inequality, extreme poverty, and many other humanitarian crises can turn menstruation into a traumatising time of the month for any young woman.

Making a change

When it comes to reclaiming the dignity of a woman's body, change is long overdue. Giving girls and women access to menstrual products that are safe, effective and acceptable to the people who use them is a basic need. Another big step is introducing relevant topics at the school level for girls and boys. Introducing them to variations that take place emotionally - Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and physically during periods - and teaching them about menstruation-related disorders and other uncertainties can shift the mindset and even save lives. Today girls as early as 8-10 are reaching menarche or starting to menstruate. Knowing about proper nutrition, management, and care is critical to their health and wellbeing.

The final word

If the last few decades have proven anything, it is that menstruating women can – and have - achieved great things. By adding menstruation education to the more extensive curriculum, we can demystify this natural phenomenon and return several lost opportunities.

For years Whisper has been working hard to change the status quo from the ground up. Besides providing menstrual health education and distributing free sanitary pads to 45 lakh girls across 40,000+ schools every year for the past three decades, they are continually breaking down barriers and bringing meaningful change to communities. The only limiting effect of menstruation on society comes from our reluctance to understand, accept and give it the respect it deserves. It's not only in our best interests but also our duty to teach future generations that periods are a time of pride and strength, not a sin to be condemned. Change is coming, all you need to decide - WILL YOU BE A PART OF IT?

If you believe that this shift in thinking is long overdue and want youth across the country to grow up with better ideals and information than the decades before, check out the campaign Period of Pride, Ek Swach soch and sign the petition here 

This is a partnered post.

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