Menstrual Taboos in Bangladesh

April 05, 2022

Menstrual Taboos in Bangladesh

A small business owner from Bangladesh had to shut her business down due to countrywide lockdown in 2020. Her husband, a rickshaw puller, also saw a fall in his monthly earnings catering to the movement restrictions. Such a situation forced the woman into using old cloth for her menstruation management. However, she failed to help herself. Eventually, she started feeling sick and weak. As she went on to ask for money from her husband to buy sanitary napkins, the husband resorted to violence. [1]

In that year, the hostel official of a college in Gujarat, India, complained to the principal that some students defied the provisions regarding menstruation. Soon after this, around 68 undergraduate female students were forced to prove that they were not menstruating. It was later known that during menstruation, the female students of the institution were not allowed to enter the kitchen or the temple, and also were prohibited from touching other students. [2]

One year before this incident, two children with their mother were found dead after the menstruating mother was exiled to a ‘menstruation hut’. Isolating oneself during menstruation is a cultural practice in Nepal called ‘Chaupadi’. As per news reports, the mother lit fire to protect herself and her two sons from the freezing temperature in winter, eventually dying of excessive smoke inhalation. [3]

In this era of women empowerment and breaking the bias of patriarchal society, these particular incidents took place in three emerging countries including ours, and unfortunately these are not the only occurrences. Bangladeshi women are continuously facing difficulties during their menstruation phase. The stigma primarily resolves around discussing and caring for women’s menstrual needs. But the taboo still exists at large.

The Situation in Bangladesh

Due to the taboos surrounding menstruation, most Bangladeshi parents do not discuss this issue with their daughters. So, when they experience their first period, most of them gets scared and confused. These stigmas are so strong thataccording to National Hygiene Survey 2018, only 36% of adolescents and 30% of adult women heard about period before they experienced it. [4] Parents should keep in mind that if they do not talk about period management directly with their daughters, they may get inaccurate information from elsewhere. Therefore, parents should freely talk about periods to avoid any kind of misconception.

Moreover, fear of getting mocked in front of everyone because of period stains remains an ongoing issue. As emergency pad corners aren’t available in most schools, many schoolgirls are afraid of getting their period during school hours. Skipping classes in menstruating days is prevalent among students. Periods caused 30% of schoolgirls to skip their classes an average of 2.5 days per month. [5] Even educated working women feel uncomfortable to call in sick for period pain and suffer in silence. 

Women, in general, feel embarrassed to buy sanitary napkins and menstrual hygiene products from pharmacies because of the stigmas. Even for most Bangladeshis, uttering the word ‘period’ in front of the general mass can be very uncomfortable.

Cultural Norms and Period Taboos

Bangladeshi women mostly face a number of restrictions during their menstruation phase. Consuming protein such as fish, eggs, meat, and particular vegetables is often said to be not allowed for menstruating women. Women are thought to be ‘unclean’ during their menstruating period.

It is a common belief that menstruating women should not sleep with their husbands as it may cause them harm. Even she is not allowed to go near cows as it will cause harm to the cow and it will not produce enough milk. Furthermore, a menstruating woman should confine herself at home because going outside can be inauspicious for her, and she might be at risk from the evil spirit. [6]

There are differences in various religious viewpoints about menstruation as well. Most of them suggest to refrain menstruating women to take part in religious activities.

Period Blood Taboos

Women in Bangladesh are taught to hide their menstruation from the male family members. There is an unrealistic belief that menstrual blood is so impure that even seeing period blood can make a man blind. One study found that some women have to wake up early before other family members just to wash their menstrual cloths. [7]

Consequences of Menstrual Taboos

These restrictions disrupt the day-to-day life of women and limit their chances to perform well during their menstruation. Another concern is that these limitations increase health risks for women. Because of the taboos, most women in Bangladesh are not well-informed about menstrual hygiene and find it challenging to maintain it properly. According to a study, over 80% of women in Bangladesh use old rags. [8] These rags are kept hidden for further use and often not washed properly with soap or detergent. Due to the stigma, they have no choice but to dry it indoors, which is very unhygienic. The cost of not managing period hygiene may lead to bacterial or fungal infections of the reproductive tract, or urinary tract infection. Prolonged conditions may eventually lead to infertility. [9]

Period Pain Management

Since talking about period is extremely uncomfortable in Bangladesh, many women do not have any idea regarding the health problems associated with menstruation. They consider menstruation-related issues as a ‘normal’ occurrence. Some women may feel uncomfortable of even speaking about or expressing the pain. Out of further embarrassment, many refrain from seeing doctors as well. As a last resort, some women end up taking oral medicines to ease the terrible pain without consultation leading to harmful side effects.

Acute period pain may require medical attention. Functional food, containing bioactive food components, can be helpful for period pain management. It can offer diverse health benefits including improving the overall health condition of women without any side effects. For example, curcumin is a bioactive food component found in turmeric. Mostly used as food color or spice, turmeric is also widely used as traditional herbal medicine. Curcumin in turmeric is known to have various health benefits, such as enhanced brain function, rich antioxidant content, and weight loss management. However, along with these properties, curcumin is highly effective in reducing the pain caused by dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods). It can be used as an herbal treatment to reduce the severity and duration of dysmenorrhea. Similarly, there are several other functional foods that contain bioactive nutrients which can help reduce inflammation in the body and help tackle period pain.

Conclusion

Women in Bangladesh already experience discrimination to a great extent. The stigma surrounding menstrual taboos further worsens this issue. Hence, it is important that we start to address this problem seriously and normalize menstruation. Raising awareness can also help women recognize menstrual hygiene requirements to reduce major health risks associated with it.

Period or menstruation is simply a natural phenomenon that indicates sound reproductive health for women. Every woman deserves to live their life without the shame and societal stigma that comes with menstruation, and all of us should come forward to ensure that. 

 

 

 

Reference:

[1] https://www.wateraid.org/bd/sites/g/files/jkxoof236/files/2020-09/Menstrual%20Health%20and%20Hygiene.pdf

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-51504992

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46823289

[4] https://www.wateraid.org/bd/sites/g/files/jkxoof236/files/2020-09/Menstrual%20Health%20and%20Hygiene.pdf

[5] https://washmatters.wateraid.org/sites/g/files/jkxoof256/files/menstrual-hygiene-in-schools---bangladesh-country-snapshot.pdf

[6] https://learn.tearfund.org/en/resources/footsteps/footsteps-21-30/footsteps-24/menstruation-issues-in-bangladesh

[7] https://archive.dhakatribune.com/opinion/special/2018/05/28/world-menstrual-hygiene-day-menstruation-taboos-pose-major-health-risks-for-bangladeshi-women

[8] https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/mitigating-impacts-covid-19-menstrual-hygiene-management-among-women-and-girls#:~:text=Over%2080%25%20of%20Bangladeshi%20women,cloth%20is%20unhygienic%20(2)

 

[9] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/the-cost-of-not-maintaining-menstrual-hygiene/tomorrowmakersshow/68387779.cms

 


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Subscribe