Why are females around the world continuing to be dictated by their bodies? – Darshni Nagaria

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Why are females around the world continuing to be dictated by their bodies? – Darshni Nagaria

No…but really…why are females around the world continuing to be dictated by their bodies?

Imagine a man told you that he couldn’t look at you, had to miss a few days of school and couldn’t undertake his routinely prayers because it was his time of the month which meant that his facial hair was falling out and replenishing itself. Stupid example I know, but that is how ridiculous period shaming sounds to me.

Period shaming is a direct product of menstrual taboo which often stems from a mix of religion, culture and tradition. It can lead to the exclusion of women from social and domestic activities and in some low- and middle-income countries, it is a cause of girls missing school. The ‘shame factor’ makes people believe that the topic of periods shouldn’t be discussed as they are embarrassing, which leads to a lack of education on how to manage cycles. UNICEF found that in Africa, 10% of African girls skip school during their periods.

The reason the issue has been on my mind is because earlier this year (yes there was a time before covid-19 took over the news!) I read an article that described the horrifying, humiliating reality that a number of girls face around the world; their periods were being monitored and inspected in the name of religion. In a village in Gujarat, India, 68 female students were made to strip and show their underwear to teachers to prove that they were not menstruating. I re-read this sentence even now and think what? This surely can’t be true. But sadly, it is and violating incidents like this will continue to occur and be under documented.

In some societies and religions, the stigma translates into rules such as females cannot visit their place of worship or undertake daily activities such as cook or eat with their family when they are on their period because they are seen as dirty or impure. I have seen signs outside temples in India saying ‘ladies are requested not to enter the temple during their mense period’. One day I am going to roll my eyes so hard, they truly will be stuck in the back of my head. Some traditions even ban females from looking at their male relatives or banish them to live separately while they are menstruating. In Nepal, even though it was banned by law, the practise of Chauppadi (banishing women to menstrual huts) continues to happen; all because it is believed that women and girls are impure, unclean and untouchable during menstruation. What makes things worse is that these beliefs are prominent in patriarchal societies, hindering the fight against gender inequality.

I am lucky enough to not have experienced any of the above, however from a young age, I have always known that in the South Asian society periods are a taboo subject and that as a woman, there are certain circumstances in which you will be treated differently when it’s that time of the month; mainly in religious settings. I actually come from a family that believes in, but doesn’t strictly practice religion, which means that I don’t really think about my daily actions in the eyes of god. However, one of the few religious customs I have known from a young age is that women shouldn’t go to the temple when they are on their period. The times I have noticed it most is when we have been at a wedding and decided to visit the Derasar (Jain temple) and my aunties have all checked on each other to make sure that they are ok to go in. As if being on their period is going to affect their ability to pray! I’m someone that loves to ask questions, whether they are obvious or not, but when I have asked why this ‘rule’ exists, annoyingly, no one has been able to give me a proper answer. I’m not sure if it is because the reason is unknown or because the people I have asked are embarrassed by the concept but either way it surely shouldn’t still apply.

It’s frustrating to think that girls around the world are still being raised to believe and observe any of these practices mentioned above. It isn’t like women function any differently in day-to-day life or that menstruation affects their praying abilities. And these differences definitely shouldn’t be highlighted to children as the world is on a mission to become more gender equal. While it is a much harder, but hopefully not impossible battle in countries such as India, Nepal and Afghanistan, we also need to challenge these beliefs at home – my home is London! As we raise the next generation of powerful, fierce, influential women, I don’t think we should pass down these concepts as they only seem to highlight differences that don’t exist.

Below is my refined list of reasons why girls shouldn’t be taught that they cannot do something when they are on their period, or that periods are shameful … trust me, I could go on for a long time with my frustrations:

1. It is sexist and discriminatory. Men do not have these restrictions so why do women? Being on your period doesn’t mean you should be excluded from your routinely activities
2. Periods do not mean you are dirty or polluting and they aren’t shameful. Girls should not be raised to believe that they are
3. In some parts of the world the stigma is one of the many reasons why girls are pulled out of school
4. In cultures where women are inherently seen as secondary to men, men should be taught that girls are equal to allow societies to reach gender parity
5. People shouldn’t be dictated by their bodily functions
6. Religion shouldn’t be a place of inequality and discrimination

By Darshni Nagaria

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