On our webinar about Dignified Menstruation Radha Paudel from Nepal talked about menstruation as an unseen topic in development policies and human rights around the world. Paudel is a social health worker, human rights activist, author and CEO for the Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation. From her personal traumatising experience with menstruation, she started doing educational work on (dignified) menstruation, since she was 16 years old.

Many girls, women, inter- and transgender around the globe are socially excluded and tabooed during their periods. This is astonishing, considering the decisive role menstruation has for reproduction on earth.

Stigmata around menstruation is a worldwide problem

In Nepal, the first menstruation is a turning point for every young woman, inter- or transgender. A large part of Nepalese considers menstrual blood as dirty, contaminated and impure. Girls, especially in the Western parts of the country, are sent to mud huts throughout their period. This is a custom called “Chhaupadi Pratha” (chaupadi=blood, praths=shed). In other areas, girls are often isolated in chambers or in specific corners of the house. Throughout these days they are facing many restrictions related to touch, food, participation and mobility. Women are not allowed to enter any homes, have contact with people, animals and certain plants and objects. For them, some food products like certain fruits are even prohibited to eat. Whether at home, in a hut or stable, alone or in pairs “the dignity of women is massively violated”, says Paudel.

The second chapter of the movie „Homebird“ made by Andrea Leichtfried and Simon Spädtke deals with the discrimination of women and girls during their periods

There is also a severe stigma for menstrual blood worldwide. One example is advertising for hygiene products, where blue water signalises the red menstrual blood, which creates a lot of shame for women who have periods.

In countries of the global North surveys reveal concerning results as well. In the UK almost half of the menstruators between 14 and 21 were embarrassed about their periods, 40% cannot afford proper menstrual products and 49% of the affected group have missed an entire day of school because of their period.

In Austria as well, menstruation is a topic that is still a societal taboo. A survey, conducted in 2017 by the social business Erdbeerwochen among school pupils found that 60% of the pupils with periods have a negative attitude towards it and 50% of them do not know what the menstrual cycle is. 70% of the boys think that the topic isn’t important and that it is embarrassing.

Restrictions prevail across the globe, but the severity differs. Paudel points out, that globally social constraints range from isolation (Indonesia, Nepal, India, some tribes in Nigeria), to restrictions on praying (China, Japan, among Hindus and Muslims), cooking, bathing (among Hindus and Jews in many parts of Europe and Latin America), restrictions regarding grooming or exercise, limitations in being in contact with nature, animals and men (India, Nepal, Uganda) and even constraints to use menstrual products.

Those restrictions have an immense impact on people’s physical, mental and social health. There are even cases of suicides around the globe, because of menstruation. To fight those issues Paudel emphasises that the importance lies in taking away the shame surrounding menstruation and working towards more dignity.

Why dialogue is of utmost importance

Menstrual restrictions construct power, which is used to control and undermine girls and women (and inter- and transgender). Girls and boys are often socialised differently. According to Paudel girls are commonly more raised with feelings of inferiority and powerlessness. Boys instead are more socialised with feelings of superiority and power. They start to accept and give in to those constructs over their lives, resulting in voiceless girls.

These conditions can also lead to different forms of violence, like abuse or rape. Radha suggests dialogue to tackle those issues. If there is no dialogue and if we keep silent, nothing will change. With silence, we create even more silence for both, current and future generations.

Together with creating dialogue about menstruation, Paudel suggests that on a global scale, a common understanding of dignified menstruation needs to be created. Dignified Menstruation means “the state of freedom from any forms of abuse, discrimination and violence associated with menstruation”. If we want human rights to improve, then we have to work on dignified menstruation, says Paudel. That includes identifying the major gaps, challenges and solutions related to the discrimination of menstruating people. Also, the creation of global forces and networks which campaign for appropriate rights are of utmost importance. Worldwide networks and resources would help to enact policy changes and to strengthen education around menstruation.

As dignified menstruation is a matter of equality, we all need to start talking about it, Paudel stresses. All those restrictions are human rights violations and without breaking the taboo and building awareness for this urgent issue, equality will never be achieved, nor will the Sustainable Goals (SDGs) be accomplished.

Menstruation during the COVID-19 pandemic

In times of COVID-19, it is even more important to discuss the discrimination of menstruators. The vast majority of frontline workers are female, and 26% of them are in the reproductive age. They are able to be stigmatised during their periods at their working places. There is not enough time to change hygiene pads, for example.

Also, isolation at home makes it more difficult for people to have access to menstrual products. The supply chain could be interrupted, which results in not enough hygiene products available. Furthermore, they might be victims of increased domestic violence and restrictions.

Radha Paudel finishes her talk with, “Menstruation is not only a women’s issue. It is not only a private issue. It is a human rights issue and it is a political issue. It is everyone’s issue!”

Here you can watch the full webinar with Radha Paudel

Initiativen für die Aufklärung rund um Menstruation und für politische Veränderung:

© The cover picture is kindly provided by Radha Paudel

This text is a summary of Radha Paudel’s talk on Dignified Menstruation and was written by Maia Loh & Lisa-Marie Hiebl-Rausch

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