Indian women are made to feel ashamed for involuntarily bleeding once a month. Given that this systemic humiliation is responsible for a variety of economic and health issues that affect the entire country — crazy how oppressing half of the population tends to hold everyone back — the government is slowly starting to paying attention to girl problems.
This Bloomberg piece breaks it down: many women lack access to infrastructure that eases the flow (separate/indoor toilets, clean/accessible supplies) and have to deal with pervasive taboos (the Hindi word for vagina is a profanity, which is pretty shitty PR for the whole endeavor.) It's hard to go to school or work — or feel like an equal at all — if you have to put up with all that once a month. Incidentally, India ranks as the third-worst nation in Asia for gender inequality, according to the United Nations. Female participation in the labor force was just 29 percent in 2011. Only 65 percent of women can read or write, compared with 82 percent of men.
[For many] in India, puberty didn’t just mark the process of becoming a woman. It brought a source of humiliation and an obstacle to learning.
“Many girls, when they get their period, say it means the end for them,” says Lizette Burgers, who headed Unicef’s water, sanitation and hygiene program in India from 2004 to 2011. “It’s taboo to talk about it.”
One obvious fix is to distribute sanitary supplies for women so they don't have to rely on "old fabric, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers." India accounts for 27 percent of the world’s cervical cancer deaths, according to World Health Organization data, and some doctors say poor menstrual hygiene is partly to blame. Some sanitary pad companies are working with local schools to dispel myths and superstitions, and India's health ministry is selling pads at a subsidized rate to teenagers.
But even women with access to good products still can't perform religious rituals, cook, or even touch drinking water in many traditional Hindu homes during that impure time of the month; one woman told Bloomberg that her silicone cup had improved her life but was still a "thing from hell." The historic notion that women need to be hidden away for exhibiting a universal bodily process that creates human life is hard to quell.
Image via AP.