Menstrual taboos

I grew up in a moderately traditional Indian/Hindu household and every month when my period decided to pay me a visit, there were strict rules which had to be followed.

“You’re not allowed to go to the Mandir (temple)”.

“You’re not allowed to participate in [insert random religious activity here]”.

“You can attend but sit in the very back”… and so on.

Due to a misinterpretation of an absurd Hindu myth about menstruation being unclean, unsanitary and impure, women are isolated & excluded from “auspicious” activities each month during their menstrual cycles.

It gets worse.

I’ve been reading about this topic a lot lately and it turns out that it’s not just a problem in my culture. I found even more absurdities around menstruation and here are some of the most infuriating (according to me):

  1.  Many women in Nepal are actually isolated in their households (or sometimes externally) for several days during menstruation; this term is known as chhaupadi.
  2. Many Nepalese women are also not able to enter their kitchens, touch holy objects, cook, or touch men.
  3. “There is a perception among Afghan women and girls that during their menstrual cycle they should not bathe or wash their genitals or else they will have “gazag,” (means they will become infertile)”
  4. Jewish women must achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth before they and their husbands may resume marital relations; this ritual is known as mikveh.
  5. Muslim women who are menstruating should not participate in fasting for Ramadan; they must complete their fast for those days on alternate dates when they’re not menstruating.
  6. There’s a common perception in Japan that women should not be sushi chefs “because women menstruate. To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle, women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs,” according to world-famous sushi chef Jiro Ono‘s son.
  7. Japanese culture also traditionally deems women too impure to enter the sumo ring, as the area is considered to be sacred. This is whether they are menstruating or not.
  8. “A taboo against women during pregnancy and menstruation was common among many nations in early pre-Christian centuries. Not only were women considered to be “impure” during these periods, but in danger of communicating their impurity to others.”
  9. Girls all over the world are missing school every month due to menstrual taboos, and even due to lack of access to sanitary products. More info here. And here.
  10. Sanitary products are hit with a luxury/sales/value added tax in many countries, despite these items being a necessity for HALF OF THE HUMAN POPULATION every single month. Kenya was the first country in the world to eliminate the ‘tampon tax’. Most of the states in the US still charge a tax on sanitary products, but items like viagra are tax-exempt. The UK, Australia, and many other countries still charge a tampon tax. You can check your own tampon tax spending here.

There are countless other examples of this problem in every continent in the world, and while there is some progress being made, there is still so much left to be done to remove the taboos, shame, and discrimination (not to mention the financial burden) of simply being a woman.

Image of a red popsicle/ice lolly melting
Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

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