We Need To Have Conversations Around Menstrual Shame And How It Affects Women

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Woman menstruating. Photo by Rapi Kaur. Image from http://freethoughtblogs.com/yemmynisting/2015/03/30/periods-the-shame-and-shaming/

It is with sad sorrow that in 2019 we should mourn the loss of a young girl, who committed suicide because she finally bloomed into a young woman. Where is this coming from? In Kabiangek primary school in Koinon constituency, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide after being humiliated by a female teacher because she soiled her dress when she had her first menses.

The class six pupil who had her first periods hanged herself from a tree following public ridicule in front of her classmates. This was because she couldn’t keep her dress clean from period stains considering that it was her first period and she had no sanitary towels to use. This just rubbed the teacher the wrong way who chose to embarrass her and kick her out of class and as you guessed, she was told to stand outside.

The mother of the child and other parents held a protest as no action was taken since the girl took her life out of menstrual trauma.

Related: A troubled teenagers letter to her parents.

Thoughts

Now, this issue may be seen as another suicide case due to underlying family matters or mental issues but can we step back and look at the main subject itself. Menstruation and menstrual stigma and why we need to talk about menstruation and how it affects millions of girls

Menstruation is a normal process and if I may add a rite of passage. The girl did not apply for the process. It is something that all girls go through. The teacher must’ve forgotten.

Speaking of the teacher I would like to cast total blame on her but again the underlying issue is that due to social conditioning menstruation been equated to a woman’s dirty linen that shouldn’t be aired in public. No pun intended.

Thinking about what I learnt growing up no one should know or even get a whiff that you are cruising through that time of the month. That is why many teenagers disappear from the social scene without apology come at that time of the month.

Others who can even afford sanitary towels opt to buy the unscented ones because apparently, the scented pads give you away anytime you pass by someone. Girls even feel shame standing up or being active. What if the pad falls, what if they hear a swish swash noise. We have not mentioned the fact that you feel all eyes on you while you are going through your menses. The list of fears is endless.

All of these emanating from some of the narratives behind menstruation which go like;

Now you are a grown woman. You are no longer like your peers, so keep away from them. Menstruating is like a sin so keep it a secret. Stay away from men and people in general during that time of the month. Do not touch anything especially people’s foods as you are filthy.

Teenage girls. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/232428030752701366/

Some believe you have been touched by a boy that’s why your menses are coming earlier than your peers. Should you be seen socialising with boys …it’s the heat from the menses driving you. So from then on everyone attributes anything you do to your menses. Basically, you just become the girl who menstruates or received her periods before everyone else. See how the menstrual stigma forms?

Sad to say the social taboos don’t stop there and they keep piling depending on the culture and traditions.

 

Now factor all that cock and bull then cue in a 14-year-old who just soiled her dress in front of the whole class. To make matters worse the teacher outrightly acknowledges that as a mistake deserving of punishment.

Do not forget that in class six these students are just two terms from learning the reproductive system; and as one would recall, this was one of those exciting but shy topics to discuss. Because like eating the forbidden fruit, the results after 2-3 lessons is you start looking at everyone as if they’re naked. All in a fit to compare the theory to practicals.

Now imagine how exposed a 14-year-old must’ve felt. She might’ve even thought that on every Friday each month her classmates would be commemorating the day her periods made a legacy. All this due to menstrual stigma.

Needless to say, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if all the other girls went like I don’t want to be embarrassed like so and so creating more ripple effects that would be adding to the menstrual stigma instead of diminishing it.

To add wood to fire the incident happened on a Friday. Imagine the trauma of waiting to be the talk of the school on Monday and how mortifying it must’ve been to the girl.

Why we need to decriminalise suicide attempts in Kenya.

So, how can we curb such incidences?

  • Be sensitive

It is imperative that adults, both teachers and parents should take the wheel in mentoring teenagers. They should also be sensitive when doing so. For instance, if the teacher could’ve called the girl aside, given her a sanitary towel and asked her to go home or even called another “mature” student from class to take her home, let’s assume we wouldn’t be talking about suicide right now.

  • Women need to be compassionate

Women need to be compassionate to themselves and to others. The reason why the teacher reacted in such a way, couldn’t be any lesser than from the fact that she didn’t realise she was projecting her insecurities and the norms she grew up believing on to a 14-year old. Can you imagine if she was the one teaching the Reproductive System? What other oppressing facts might’ve she cued in her explanations just by default?

Read on: Issues facing women around the world

Teenagers are also on the threshold to adulthood and therefore they are more alert to changes around them. Therefore, any degradation or humiliation they might experience makes them feel like it is their fault. This only adds on to the insecurities that they may already be experiencing, creating deeper problems like anxiety, depression amongst other psychological issues.

  • Unlearn oppressing myths and taboos

If we are part of the solution, we are also part of the problem. Men are also stakeholders in the reproductive system discussion hence they shouldn’t be left out in this discussion. Puberty is natural and one thing is for sure, procreate and fill the earth was not oriented as a solo endeavour.

That said, men should be included for all of us to progress in breaking the menstruation stigma. As we can relate that most if not all stigmas like; hide yourself during that time of the month, don’t let them know you are on your periods, don’t step in the kitchen, all are formulated with one denominator in mind. Men.

Especially the don’t cook/step in the kitchen while on your periods narrative. On this, I’m sure its not a group of women waiting for food on the other end. Otherwise, one way or another they would find themselves in the kitchen, periods or not.

Therefore from an early age, boys should be taught to embrace menstruation a holistic rite of passage that women undergo instead of a shameful process that calls for isolation/quarantine.

  • Safe spaces

It all comes down to care, concern and compassion. It is reported that the girl left school at 10 am, went to fetch water but never returned. This would’ve have ended differently if she felt she could talk to someone. This is the essence of safe spaces as one feels comfortable to talk about issues they are facing. One way to curb menstrual stigma would be to introduce safe spaces where teenagers can feel comfortable to talk about troubling matters.

Stop period shaming

People need to unlearn some of the oppressing beliefs they hold around menstruation. Adults and schools, in general, should make an effort to learn about menstrual education which they can impart on the children.

 

We need to put the effort into learning how to deal with sexual and reproductive education both in schools and at home.  Lastly, everyone should work to diminish menstrual stigma across all societies since evidently, it is predominant and a trigger that can lead to grave consequences.

 

Take a look at Teenage suicides what are the risk factors

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