DEMYSTIFY MENSTRUAL HEALTH WITH JAMES S NAMALIRA

Have you ever thought how menstruation became a taboo? Is it because of the blood or the secrecy that was attached to it? Or because it only happens to women?

In my culture menstruation has been treated as a women’s issue, since time immemorial spouses didn’t discuss it openly, they just opted to use nonverbal communication where a woman hung a red string of beads in the bedroom to signify menstruation and white for the safe period. When the man saw a red string of beads he would shun the woman, considering her impure until he received further nonverbal communication with the white beads, after which they would resume their conjugal rights.

Imagine if the couple did not discuss menstruation, who would have been responsible for providing safe menstrual wear?

During those times few women were in formal work and most of them supported their families with household chores and peasant farming for which they didn’t get paid. This means that it was mostly men who worked in the formal sector and provided direct (monetary) support to the family, yet they did not really understand menstruation, what women experienced and what they needed for Menstrual Health Management. Guess what? Men did not support women and women opted for cheap or locally available resources to manage menstruation. These ranged from old dirty rags, to leaves and cow dung. Unsafe materials are a conducive environment for infection. This presented double suffering from the menstrual pains and infection.

As poor management of menstruation and the culture of secrecy grew, the fear of the unknown gave rise to the taboo about menstruation and salt. People believe that if a woman is menstruating, she is not supposed to put salt in relish or else the people who eat the relish will lose their teeth. This has increased the fear among people toward women undergoing menstruation, labeling them as impure, while in reaction the women themselves create more secrecy around menstruation in order to avoid shame. A general rule now is that adolescent girls and young women should not put salt in relish, as a precaution so that they do not add salt while menstruating.

But what is the truth about this salt and menstruation? The truth is that menstruation has no connection with salt in relish, but the logic was based on cleanliness to be observed during the menstrual period when preparing food. Due to secrecy men were not aware of this and they stigmatized and discriminated against women during menstruation as they believed that women could harm them.

How did menstruation labeling, stigma and discrimination survive generations so that it found its way into the 21st century?

This question reminds me of when I was young at school and at home. Every time girls or women experienced their monthly flow they used excuses like a migraine or other sicknesses. They did so to avoid being mocked, which has perpetuated the stigma. If society socializes women to stand and say “I am menstruating”, everyone would appreciate it as normal for women and provide the necessary support for a happy flow. If women and men in families were able to freely discuss menstruation, how it affects them, it’s merits and demerits, we could see more and more men having menstrual pads in their shopping.  If men are free to discuss it, we could see more family, and community discussions on menstrual Health Management and how to support a happy flow. Then we could see more and more girls going to school without worrying about their menstrual date and how their classes would react if their period had to start unknowingly. This could see more and more girls finishing their senior classes where currently their numbers drop drastically due to poor MHM. Lastly, we could see more adolescent girls choosing not to commit suicide due to the stigma and discrimination attached to Menstruation.

At long last we will realize the genesis of this discrimination, its exodus and where we are now. We realize that Girls and women don’t need sympathy, they need understanding and support! When the sun rises and sets we celebrate the new day to come – we never question nature. What about when menstruation occurs? Is it human will or the same nature that causes it? We therefore don’t need to question menstruation, we should appreciate menstruation, and support menstrual health.

I have signed the petition for free sanitary wear for all people who need it, and you should too! https://bit.ly/2RkH0vq