It’s May again. Which of course means: MH Day on the 28th. Just like it was in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 et cetera, all the way back to 2014, when the Wash United initiative was first celebrated. Indeed, in the same year menstrual magazine Period! was launched.
Worldwide period taboos: angry river gods & dull mirrors
MH Day sounds a bit blasé? No way! It’s still necessary to raise awareness about menstrual health and hygiene. Because even now, in 2021, there are still people who think a cow will become infertile when touched by a woman on her period. No, that’s not a joke. That’s one of the many menstrual taboos out there. Want some more examples of the prejudices and negative outlook on periods worldwide?
- In central Ghana menstruating women and girls aren’t allowed to cross a river due to a belief that the river god doesn’t approve of it.
- In Nigeria, it’s believed that the touch of a menstruating girl or woman will cause a plant to die, milk to curdle, and a mirror to lose its brightness.
- In parts of India, it’s believed that if a woman or girl touches a cow while menstruating, the cow will become infertile.
- In Kashmir, India, menstruating women are prohibited from using water sources because it’s bad luck for them to be near flowing water. They also aren’t allowed to look at their reflections in the water.
- In certain remote areas of Nepal, women aren’t allowed to interact with anyone during their period. They’re banished to a hut or shed outside the house until the bleeding is over.
- In Bangladesh, women aren’t allowed to eat salty or sour foods, fish or eggs while menstruating.
- In parts of Afghanistan, it’s said that improper disposal of used sanitary materials will make a girl menstruate continuously for the rest of her life.
- In parts of India, Taiwan and Japan, women aren’t allowed to enter temples when they’re on their period.
Religious menstrual stigmas
Let’s not forget the influence of religion.
- Judaism has some strict rules concerning menstruation, like the ritual exclusion called ‘niddah’. This applies to a woman from the first day of her period to a week after the bleeding has stopped. During that time, she’s considered unclean and literally any physical contact between male and female is forbidden.
- Islam considers menstruating women ritually impure as well: they aren’t allowed to fast, pray or enter a mosque.
- In Hinduism, women on their period are, you might have guessed it by now…, considered impure as well.
- Christianity also has a long history of menstrual stigmas. In certain conservative denominations menstruating women still can’t receive communion or perform prayers and Russian orthodox Christians believe that a menstruating woman’s stare can influence the weather negatively.
The goal for 2030: a world without period poverty and stigma
With beliefs and prejudices like the ones mentioned above, there’s still a lot that needs changing. Especially in order to achieve a world without period poverty and stigma by 2030, Wash United’s goal. A world where no girl or woman is held back because she menstruates.
Think menstrual taboos and period poverty only exist in places far away or so-called ‘third world countries’? Think again: in France they used to believe that mayonnaise made by a menstruating woman would spoil quicker. In Italy the same was thought about homemade tomato sauce. In some parts of Portugal you aren’t allowed in a wine cellar while menstruating. In Suriname you aren’t allowed to cook at all. This is why boys and men learn cooking and why most Surinamese restaurants have only male chefs. In Japan women aren’t allowed to become a sushi chef, because menstruation is seen as impure.
All over the world you’ll find specific rules for menstruating women. These are reflected in the about 5,000 euphemisms for ‘menstruation’ that exist. Aunt flo or Grandma is visiting? In the old days they actually came over when the lady of the house was menstruating. In some parts of the world they still do.
What’s on this MHDay?
Despite the fact that the menstrual community is growing every year, there still needs to be more action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene. That’s what MH Day wants to achieve. Want to support MH Day to end period stigma by making and wearing the Menstruation Bracelet? Look here for a tutorial. Take a picture of yourself wearing the bracelet and publish it on social media, showing that periods are nothing to hide. Don’t forget to add the hashtags: #MHDay2021 #ItsTimeForAction.
Or partake in one of the MH Day events. This year, because of the ongoing corona pandemic, many events will be online. Virtual symphosia, webinars, Zoom conversations about periods, online film screenings and health talks – and that’s just a small selection. Of course there will be also some in-person events, such as distributing free sanitary products to girls and women in need, educational sessions in schools, and reusable pad making workshops. See all the events that will be held worldwide on Friday, May 28, here.
Menstrual HEALTH and hygiene: a new definition
Maybe you have noticed: the term ‘menstrual hygiene’ isn’t sufficient anymore. Hygiene – having acces to clean water, private bathrooms and menstrual products – is of course an important aspect of safe menstrual management. But the term ‘hygiene’ is also seen as a bit stigmatising. This is why policy makers nowadays prefer the term ‘menstrual health’. Up until now, there hasn’t been a unified definition, leaving these words open to interpretation. Which could lead to confusion or misunderstanding. Not anymore: the term ‘menstrual health’ finally has a formal definition. The Terminology Action Group of the Global Menstrual Collective has defined menstrual health as: ‘A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle’. Read more about the new definition and why this terminology is important for menstrual policy, practice and research here.
More about menstrual myths and taboos?