Last year, watching my favorite Bollywood actor, Akshay Kumar, star in the movie Padman, got me thinking.
It provided quite the reality-check, illustrating the many struggles that women face in India, such as having to sleep outside their homes when they are menstruating. The stigma surrounding periods jeopardizes the health of thousands of women. However, changing the socio-cultural beliefs about menstruation is extremely difficult.
Not only is menstruation often seen as a taboo, the lack of information regarding periods and sexual/reproductive health is widespread. In countries like India, even bringing up these topics can cause severe outrage and criticism. When Akshay Kumar attempts to create period products on his own, the very women he is trying to help view him as an outcast and refuse to accept his help, only further illustrating how intrinsic the shame surrounding periods actually is. But this needs to change.
I hoped that watching Padman with my family would allow them to further recognize the inherent flaws in seeing periods as impure. And I think it did- but to a certain extent.
I know so many girls who had no idea what was happening to them when they got their periods and were too ashamed to disclose their situation to anyone. There simply aren’t enough resources to help young girls learn about their bodies.
Thankfully, before I got my period, my mom had explained the whole process to me, and had even shown me how pads worked. That’s why when I got my period, I was perfectly calm and knew exactly what was happening to my body- and why. And while menstruation is seen as a taboo in many other families, when I got my period, we celebrated the fact that I was now on my path to womanhood. For these things, I am incredibly grateful.
Yet somehow, the underlying social views about periods persisted even in my family. I wasn’t allowed to go to the temple or pray when I was on my period. And when I questioned this, the explanation I received was something about energy levels being off. I simply don’t believe this- I think it stems from the pre-held conception of periods being impure, and my family might maintain this view without even realizing it.
Yes, I am lucky that I am not in a situation where I am shunned or kicked out of my own house for being on my period. But I still see period shame occurring not only in my life, but in the lives of so many other women. Period shaming need to be mitigated not only in countries like India, but across the world, down to my own community.
Even period poverty can be attributed to the social stigmas surrounding periods. The very products that women rely on to maintain their hygiene are so expensive, which makes it seem like period products are not essential to our well-being. And I think this too, stems from people viewing periods as disgusting. The ironic part is that the people who stigmatize periods wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for periods.
What gives me hope is seeing organizations like Hygiene for Her doing work to help mitigate the issues that women face on their periods, especially those of a lower socio-economic status. It is empowering to see this sort of work done, and it demonstrates our potential to change the status-quo.
However, more people need to step up and support this cause, because periods are an astounding force of nature that lie at the crux of human existence- and no, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
It is everyone’s obligation to speak out against instances of period shame and work towards ending period poverty. We don’t all have to find an ingenious way of producing period products, like Akshay Kumar does in Padman. But we all have the ability to change our views about periods and help others understand how remarkable periods truly are. And if everyone steps up to this cause, we can not only mitigate the social stigma surrounding periods, we can also incite widespread amazement towards menstruation- which might help us eliminate period shaming and period poverty altogether.
Written by Trisha Beher