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HUSHED TONES: Embracing Open Dialogue On Menstruation

I had my first period when I was 11 years old. I knew what was happening from science classes at school and had known to expect it at any time. But I remember a deep sense of shame – one I couldn’t quite rationalise.

I hid it from my mother, using countless amounts of toilet paper until I knew I couldn’t hide it any more. About a year later, I was walking from school with a boy whom I used to be friends with. He started laughing at me. Not just laughing, but howling.

He pointed to the back of my white sports shorts, where I noticed a big red stain. Once again, my overriding emotion was shame. About two years ago, something similar happened to me in a restaurant.

A lady rushed to tell me I’d had an “accident”; she pointed at my white shorts, and there it was again. I just couldn’t look at this mishap as any other, like spilling food or red wine on my dress.I am a 31-year-old woman and still navigating the shame that menstruation brings. I know this is a reality for many women. Copied from World Economic Forum of Africa.

In every corner of the globe, women share a common experience: menstruation. Menstruation, a natural biological process, holds profound cultural, religious, and socioeconomic significance for women worldwide. Yet, beyond the biological rhythms, lies an array of cultural, religious, and economic influences that shape how we perceive and navigate this natural phenomenon.

Religious Perspectives:

Across various faiths, menstruation holds distinct meanings and practices. In some cultures, it’s seen as impure, while in others, it symbolises fertility and womanhood. Navigating these diverse beliefs is crucial in promoting respectful dialogue and inclusive menstrual health education.

Consider Fatimah, a young Muslim woman in Nigeria, where menstruation is often viewed through the lens of purity. For her, attending religious ceremonies during her period is about navigating centuries-old customs that dictate her participation. Contrast this with Maria, a Catholic woman, whose church embraces menstruation as a natural aspect of life, devoid of shame or restriction. Outside Africa, In Nepal, menstruating girls observe the traditional practice of chaupadi, which views menstruating women as unclean and requires them to spend their time of the month in a shed far away from their families as it is believed they will otherwise bring their families bad luck or ill health. In 2005, Nepal’s Supreme Court banned chaupadi, describing it as a human rights violation. These diverse perspectives highlight the importance of understanding and respecting the religious beliefs that colour our experiences of menstruation.

Cultural Influences:

Cultural beliefs and practices profoundly shape attitudes towards menstruation. Taboos and stigmas surrounding menstruation persist in many societies, impacting women’s experiences and access to resources. 

Meet Fatima, a teenager in a rural village in Africa. Here, menstruation isn’t just a monthly occurrence but a whispered secret, laden with stigma and superstition. Fatima, like many girls in her community, learned to hide her period, fearing ridicule and ostracisation. 

Contrast this with Emma, a young woman in urban Nigeria, where open conversations about menstruation are encouraged from a young age. Here, menstruation isn’t taboo; it’s simply a fact of life, celebrated as a milestone in a girl’s journey to womanhood. These stories underscore the profound impact of culture on our attitudes towards menstruation and the urgent need to challenge harmful taboos and myths.

Efforts to challenge these norms, such as menstrual hygiene campaigns and education programs, are essential for dismantling barriers and fostering positive cultural attitudes towards menstruation.

Socioeconomic Considerations:

Socioeconomic factors significantly influence menstrual health outcomes. In low-income communities, lack of access to sanitary products, clean water, and adequate sanitation facilities poses challenges to menstrual hygiene management. Economic disparities exacerbate existing inequalities.

Imagine Aisha, a mother of four females living in a crowded urban slum. For her, accessing menstrual products for herself and her daughters isn’t just a matter of convenience; it’s a daily struggle against poverty and inequality. Aisha knows that every naira she spends on sanitary pads is a naira less for food or rent. 

Now, contrast her story with Sarah, a college student in a wealthy suburb in Accra, Ghana. For Sarah, menstruation is an inconvenience, easily managed with a quick trip to the store for the latest menstrual products.

These differences highlight the harsh realities faced by millions of women worldwide who lack access to basic menstrual hygiene products and services. Targeted interventions to ensure equitable access to menstrual health resources and education for all women is needed.

Understanding menstruation from a holistic perspective requires acknowledging and respecting its religious, cultural, and socioeconomic dimensions.

As we reflect on these stories, let us remember that menstruation is more than just a bodily function; it’s a reflection of our shared humanity.

By embracing the diversity of experiences and challenging the stigma that surrounds menstruation, we can create a world where every woman can manage her period with dignity and pride.

Additionally, addressing menstrual discomfort and promoting open communication about menstruation within families and communities can contribute to breaking down barriers and fostering positive attitudes.

 

QUIZ

 

  1. Which traditional African belief claims that menstrual blood has magical properties?
  1. A) Yoruba culture in Nigeria
  2. B) Maasai culture in Kenya and Tanzania
  3. C) Zulu culture in South Africa
  4. D) Ashanti culture in Ghana

 

Answer: B) Maasai culture in Kenya and Tanzania

Explanation: In Maasai culture, menstrual blood is believed to have protective and purifying properties.

 

  1. Which African country hosted the first-ever Menstrual Hygiene Day celebration?
  • A) South Africa
  • B) Kenya
  • C) Nigeria
  • D) Ghana

Answer: B) Kenya

  • Explanation: Kenya hosted the first-ever Menstrual Hygiene Day celebration in 2014, aimed at breaking the silence and stigma surrounding menstruation.

 

  1. Myth or Fact: You can’t get pregnant during your period.
  • A) Myth
  • B) Fact

Answer: A) Myth

  • Explanation: While the likelihood of getting pregnant during your period is lower, it’s still possible, especially if you have a shorter menstrual cycle.

 

  1. In which religion is menstruation considered harmful hence, men should refrain from sexual intercourse with their menstruating wives?
  1. Christianity
  2. Islam

Answer: B) Islam

Explanation. From a medical point of view, blood is an infectious substance through which numerous diseases can be transmitted. Hence, for safety reasons, men should not engage in sexual intercourse with menstruating women even if they are their wives.

 

Send your questions, views and comments on menstruation via 2017aadamu@uhas.edu.gh

 

UP NEXT: MENSTRUATION: WHY WOMEN MENSTRUATE.

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