Menstruation Around the World: A Cultural Perspective
Posted byAlicia Trent
Around the world, menstruation is viewed differently depending on the culture and community. From being considered taboo to being celebrated to being mostly ho-hum, perceptions about women’s periods run a gamut. Take a peek into various cultures to learn how they view and treat a woman’s period.
A Taboo Topic
In areas such as western Nepal, menstruation is seen as “unclean” and villages require menstruating women to sleep in menstrual huts during their cycle. Villagers fear that menstruating women will contaminate their homes and may enrage the Hindu gods if they stay inside with their families, according to National Public Radio (NPR).1 Western Nepal natives believe that menstruation causes sickness in family members and livestock if women do not remain in the period huts overnight. While the tradition of menstruation huts was outlawed in 2005, the ritual persists.
In some parts of India, menstruating girls are told that their period can pollute food, according to The Huffington Post.2 Women and girls are forbidden from cooking and touching pickled vegetables, according to The Huffington Post.2
Meanwhile in Bolivia, menstruating girls often carry their used sanitary pads with them during the school day and wait until they get home to discard them. The girls are too embarrassed of their schoolmates finding their pads in bathroom stalls, reports UNICEF.3 Also, there is a traditional belief that if you mix menstrual blood with other trash, it causes cancer, says UNICEF.3 Hope may be on the way for Bolivian women. UNICEF is working to change these misconceptions by encouraging period education in Bolivia and increasing available resources for menstruating girls.
A Reason to Celebrate
In other parts of the globe, a period is a reason to party. Young Ghanaian women rest under decorative, ceremonial umbrellas as they start their periods. Families treat the menstruating women as royalty, giving them gifts and paying them homage, according to NPR.4 Menstrual huts aren’t always considered dreaded isolation chambers. The Ulithi women of the South Pacific host a positive party atmosphere in menstruation huts and use the time to bond with other women, says NPR.4
Women of Cree decent celebrate periods, too. (The Cree are considered one of the largest groups of First Nations in North America, with over 200,000 members living in Canada.) When Cree women begin their period, they are honored with a rite of passage called a Berry Fast, according to Women’s Health.5 Generations of female family members participate by praying for the future of the young women and bringing them soup and water while they fast from solid foods. Family members encourage the young women to consider their life goals and to be creative during their period by using their hands. When the event is over, the young women are treated to a large feast, notes Women’s Health.
A Normal Part of Life
Back in the United States, girls who start their period have a host of options and resources available to aid them in their journey. While American culture used to be hush-hush about a woman’s cycle, the women of today are now exposed to mainstream period commercials, magazine advertisements, billboard signs and social media promotions.
Some period advocates in the U.S. and Europe say a woman’s monthly flow can still be challenging in underserved communities. To combat this issue, a pair of New Jersey teens recently launched Girls Helping Girls. Period, a community drive to collect feminine hygiene products for those in need.6 The selfie initiative #JustATampon – which originated in England and quickly went viral – has helped raise awareness and donations for gender inequality globally, reports The Independent.
In a perfect world, there would be less stigma around periods and every woman would have the education and resources she needs to be confident about her monthly cycle. No matter where a woman lives, she benefits when her community embraces and supports menstruation without judgment.
1Preiss, Danielle. “A Young Woman Died in a Menstrual Hut in Nepal.” National Public Radio. November 28, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/11/28/503155803/a-young-woman-died-in-a-menstrual-shed-in-nepal
2Goldberg, Eleanor. “All The Inconceivable Ways Women Deal With Their Periods Worldwide…And How To Help.” The Huffington Post. July 20, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/14/menstruation-myths_n_7495568.html
3“WASH in Schools Empowers Girls’ Education in Rural Cochabamba, Bolivia: An Assessment of Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools” UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/wash/schools/files/Bolivia_MHM_Booklet_DM_15_Nov_single_0940_Bolivia.pdf
4Brink, Susan. “Some Cultures Treat Menstruation With Respect.” National Public Radio. August 11, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/08/11/431605131/attention-trump-some-cultures-treat-menstruation-with-respect
5Abber, Caitlin and Abi-Najem, Nicole. “Around the World in 28 Periods.” Women’s Health. May 27, 2016. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/periods-around-the-world
6“About Us” Girls Helping Girls. Period. https://www.girlshelpinggirlsperiod.org/about-us
7Gander, Kashmira. “#JustATampon: Women and Men Take Selfies with Sanitary Products to Help Break Down the Taboos Around Periods.” The Independent. June 8, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/justatampon-women-and-men-take-selfies-with-sanitary-products-to-help-break-down-the-taboos-around-10305252.html
- Posted by Alicia Trent
- On September 15, 2017