As part of SAFIC’s initiative on Prenatal Education, we have taken up a larger research project on menstrual health and hygiene, particularly in the light of Indian cultural perspectives and insights on this topic. We propose to do workshops and extended courses in this area in the coming year. Presented below in our rationale for taking up this research project.
Menstruation is a natural biological process that women undergo during a major period of their lives. Because of its connection with fertility and pregnancy, menstruation is closely linked with womanhood suggesting some of the fundamental differences between men and women at many levels including physical, emotional and psychological. It is no wonder then that over the ages, menstruation and related practices have figured significantly in the evolving perceptions of different societies and cultures across the world toward women, man-woman relationships, and the place and role of women in society as a whole.
A Great Push to Promote Menstrual Hygiene and Health
In the past few years, promoting menstrual hygiene and health, especially among the girls and women in developing countries, has suddenly become an ‘in-thing.’ In addition to the campaigns being led by various NGOs, CSRs, and other social agencies, the United Nations too has been supporting this important cause. Given that menstrual health is often closely connected with not only the reproductive health but overall sense of well-being of girls and women, any well-meaning effort to promote menstrual health is welcome because it is a step toward improving overall public health in the society.
Uncovering the Assumptions and Misperceptions, Contextualising the Work
At the same time, it is equally important to situate these efforts to promote menstrual health and hygiene in the appropriate cultural and sociological contexts. For example, behind many of the programmes there is an underlying assumption that girls and women in developing countries, particularly India, generally have poor menstrual health often resulting from lack of proper education, lack of availability of menstrual hygiene products, and the continued use of several non-scientific traditional menstrual practices.
Several comparative research studies, in fact, indicate that this is not the case. Some field studies have also revealed that often the use of traditional menstrual hygiene practices by girls and women in many parts of rural India not only makes much greater sense for various reasons but also does not really have any adverse effect on the overall menstrual health.
Additionally, many of the campaigns to promote menstrual health are also based on an assumption that most girls and women in traditional societies such as India have to suffer many restrictions because of several cultural beliefs and practices related to menstruation. There is a tendency to put down certain cultures and religions on the basis of such assumptions and preconceived biases resulting from either lack of proper cultural sensitivity and awareness or simply a disinterest to study deeper the reasons behind some of the cultural beliefs and practices related to menstruation.
For example, in the recent times, menstruation has been in the middle of the controversy surrounding the issues of temple entry, gender equality, etc. Such controversies which are often the result of incorrect or incomplete knowledge about various cultural practices and their evolution over time, generally create more confusion surrounding the issue and often leads many people, both men and women, to feel a sense of alienation and disconnect from their cultural and religious backgrounds.
Need to Develop a Holistic Awareness and Cultural Sensitivity
We believe that while it is important to discuss and highlight various issues related to menstrual health and hygiene in India, the conversations surrounding the topic must happen at a deeper level. Also, there is a great need to promote a deeper and holistic awareness as well as a greater cultural sensitivity on various aspects related to menstruation, instead of reducing the entire effort to promoting certain menstrual hygiene products.
It is no surprise that today many young Indians, in their zeal to ape everything Western and confusing Westernisation with modernity, feel a sense of strong disconnect from their cultural backgrounds. Much of the ignorance exists simply because our present ‘modern’ education has conditioned us to think that only a materialistic-rationalistic view toward life, identity, health, gender, individualism, society, culture, religion, etc. can be a modern and hence universally generalizable view. As a result, every other ‘cultural’ or ‘traditional’ view toward any of these things is considered just some ‘localised’ variant, not at all relevant for our modern times and contexts.
It is important to address such misconceptions if we wish to prevent further cultural-uprooted-ness among younger generations of Indians.