“In some place, a woman cannot be in their own homes during their period, in others women can be in the house, but not in the kitchen and worship room. They are also forbidden from touching other people (especially male member of the family or neighbours) or cattle and from growing fruits and vegetables. Women become untouchable”.
Being male I don’t understand the pain and societal pressure every woman goes through during their periods. However, I feel it is the duty of both men and women to talk about such issues that a very much prevalent in our society. As a son, I feel it is my right to talk for my mother where she has been the victim of such superstitious belief. Someday I may have a daughter and I don’t want her to go through what my mother and sisters had gone through once. However, two thoughts play hide and seek in my mind as I try to talk about menstrual taboos. One, that I should make young girls understand that these restrictions are not because they become impure or polluted during menstruation. Two, that I should never, ever, hurt their religious or cultural sentiments because I have neither the knowledge nor the right to make that judgment.
A child is considered a “Bundle of joy” and “A gift from the divine” but the production process and the pain that women have to undergo years for this valuable gift are sin- this refers to menstruation and its associated untouchability. I was born in southern Bhutanese family (Lhotshampa) and from the small age, we have strict norms and cultural beliefs to be followed. One such norm that each girl are aware of is, dos and don’ts they have to follow during the menstruation time. During the girl’s first menstruation she is not allowed to go out of her room because if any male member of the family sees her, it is considered bad luck. In some extreme cases, girls are kept away from her own home, where she is made to live in relatives or neighbours house.
That red blood is considered as a sin, the same blood that represents her as a woman. It is nerve-wracking to see, how women are treated worse than an animal when natural, biological process knocked on the door for the very first time. In that stage, the girl needs the support, love and care from all of her family, the process of a little girl turning into a woman is something special but if family member ignores and humiliate her by not allowing to see her own father and brothers, how can she trust that womanhood is a beautiful stage. I was beyond happy when my little sister had her first period in a hostel. I would have never forgiven myself if I had to treat her like how my religion (Hindu) does to every daughter during their first period. After all, no girl in the world deserves to go through those feelings of insecurity and loneliness as she enters her womanhood.
It is high time to do everything possible to break the taboo that does nothing but develop inferiority complex in young girls. Firstly, Society should stop using religion as an excuse to continue the tradition. In fact, it is not even about religion; it’s mere superstition. In modern society, menstruation should be treated as a legal issue and women right issue. Secondly, women themselves believe the tradition. They believe that such practice has been there for centuries and God will curse them if they don’t follow the rule of seclusion during periods. Girls and women continue the practice because they fear God will be angry with them and they will bring misfortune on the family. Our women should come out of such false belief, open up and fight for their right.
Lastly, Institutions that protect Women and girl child needs to take a new approach to this issue. In Bhutan, Hindu is a minor community, where less focus has been given to address such issue by institutions that protect women. I believe that this is not a cultural issue. It is not a part of religion but part of superstition. It is against women’s right. It is also a legal issue.
Over the years many families have stopped following this practice, especially in an urban area but it still prevails in rural communities. The worst part is these are handed down by women to women and the men folks hardly understand what happens during this phase. Now the time has come where such issue should be discussed in public, it is not anymore the private issue. Every woman should discuss it so that even male members of the family will understand the discrimination that women are facing. It is time to ensure a world where women are entitled to the right to live with dignity, respect and confidence.