Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The New York Times: The Taboo of Menstruation

At age thirteen, menstrual periods can be embarrassing.  I used to hide any sign of it. But embarrassment was the worst of it for me, an American girl with a mother who was a nurse. I accommodated, finished school, grew up.

A sympathetic mother can help, as demonstrated in a passage concerning menstruation in the 2008 YA novel by Margo Rabb entitled Cures for Heartbreak.  Here, protagonist Mia remembers a conversation with her mother about her "friend."

My mother was the only one who believed the pain was real. To her, any illness, menstral or not, became an occasion. Out came the ginger ale, strawberry Jell-O, soup.

But in countries such as India, where impoverished mothers lack education, the beginning of menses can determine whether or not a girl goes to school. Lack of accurate information as well as and a clean, private bathroom in which to change a sanitary pad can be why girls give up on school to get married. This is the subject of Rose George's Op Ed in the New York Times on 12/28/12.

Also, according to author George, the misinformation girls are given by their mothers makes girls feel literally cursed. For instance, a mother might tell her daughter:

 . . . when you menstruate, don't cook food because you will pollute it. Don't touch idols because you will defile them. Don't handle pickles because they will go rotten with your touch.

Pollute. Defile.  Rot. How powerful is the menstruating girl!

Fortunately, to help girls deal with the reality of monthly periods and maintain their self-esteem, there is an organization in India called WASH United working on improving basic sanitation. A private bathroom and information on how to attend to personal hygiene directly impacts a girl's ability to attend school.

Of course, the task is huge. But George's article provides a glimpse of the relatively simple and practical fixes that can have huge impact.

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