Period Taboos: The Deadly Truth

Ever since getting my first period at the age of twelve, I have become a pro at hiding all the evidence. I can effortlessly slip tampons up my sleeves before walking into a public bathroom. I’ve passed them under the table to female friends who were caught without supplies in a moment of need. All this secrecy was to avoid the embarrassment and shame that is so often associated with menstruation. For me, taboos surrounding periods merely meant hiding tampons and not talking about how bad my cramps were to male friends. In other parts of the world, however, period taboos have severe consequences.

English_Townley_1In certain cultures, menstruating women are considered unclean. They are unable to enter sacred places, touch religious objects, or even live within the walls of their own homes. The practice called “chhaupadi” in Nepal requires menstruating women to leave their homes for the duration of their periods.[1]

The women and girls stay in isolated huts and cannot use the village toilets. Since they remain away from their homes, they don’t have access to healthy food, clean bedding or the village water source. They are also restricted from touching cows, men, and plants. One village man said, “Menstrual blood is a poison.” [1]

Many of these rules stem from Hindu traditions and beliefs; however, other groups have adopted the practice as well. Despite the illegality of the practice in Nepal, religious traditions have proved difficult to overcome.

India is another country where taboos surrounding menstruation have a negative impact on women and girls. Only 12 percent of girls and women in India use hygienic ways to manage their periods. This is often because the act of buying sanitary napkins is considered shameful. The taboo also prevents young girls from receiving proper education regarding their periods. They are therefore ill-prepared to deal with their menstrual cycles in hygienic ways.[2]

Period taboos can have disastrous results. A woman was found dead in a remote Nepalian village after spending the night in one of the isolated huts. She had lit a fire to stay warm and protect against the freezing temperatures outside, and she was suffocated by the smoke in the night.[3]

These taboos also force girls to miss class or even drop out of school. Since girls don’t have access to hygienic products and the shame surrounding periods is so strong, they don’t attend classes during their periods. As a result, they fall behind and often end up dropping out.[4]

Some women are actively fighting against these taboos and are seeing modest success. Reproductive health workers and NGOs are starting campaigns to educate women about hygienic ways to deal with their periods. They are also seeing a gradual shift in attitudes as people become more accepting of menstruation.[5] For example, some young Nepalese women are refusing to go to the isolated huts during menstruation. They elect to stay with their families instead, and their choices are helping people in their villages to reconsider their traditions.[6]

Whatever the period taboos are where we live, we can actively seek to recognize the power in periods. Menstruation is a healthy, normal event for women all around the globe. It should never be used to hold women back.

–by BT


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[1] Jolly, Joanna and Vibeke Venema. 2017. “Banished for Bleeding.” The BBC, April 29.

[2] Gupta, Aditi. 2015. “A taboo-free way to talk about periods.” TED, May.

[3] Bowman, Verity. “Woman in Nepal dies after being exiled to outdoor hut during her period.” The Guardian, January 12, 2019.

[4] “Taking on period taboos.” Wateraid.

[5] Jolly & Venema. 2017.

[6] Jolly & Venema. 2017.


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