Exploring the Mentality of Menstruation Around The World
Photo by Matteo Grassi
Just like most things, different cultures and different countries view certain aspects of life in unique manners.
The same can be said for how menstruation and periods are viewed throughout the world. In some cultures, menstruation has long been celebrated, whereas in others even talking about periods is still seen as taboo.
I wanted to take a look at how different countries and cultures view menstruation in today’s world and to take a look at how these mentalities are affecting individuals who menstruate.
Before we go any further, it should be understood that these experiences are based on individual experiences. I talked to people around the world to gain their insight on how the country that they live in or grew up in views menstruation.
What is said here is not necessarily true for the entirety of a culture or country. It is simply an overall look at the mentality of menstruation and how menstruation is treated differently in other countries and cultures.
While I used personal testimonies and researched facts, none of these experiences may be universal throughout a specific culture or country.
One country that seems to be leading the charge in erasing the negative stigma surrounding menstruation is France. Due to progress in erasing the stigma surrounding periods, the discussion about periods and everything involving women’s health is talked about in a more open environment, which makes health knowledge and resources more readily available.
Courtney moved to France from the U.S. more than eight years ago, and her views on reproductive health have changed over that period of time.
“There is a lot of awareness about the toxicity of tampons and pads,” Courtney said.
Courtney also remarked about how there is an increased awareness of birth control. She said that a lot of French women are actually against the pill because it “affects the woman’s natural cycle.”
Due to this, Courtney stopped taking the pill. Shortly afterward, she started having strange symptoms such as weight gain.
“I realized I had a thyroid autoimmune disease and then a year later they discovered a malignant tumor in my thyroid,” Courtney said. “The doc said I probably had the autoimmune disease for years but the symptoms didn’t really appear until I stopped the pill.”
Courtney attributes France’s mentality surrounding women’s health as a huge factor in actually receiving the help that she personally needed.
During a 2010 study in Pakistan regarding Afghan refugees, doctors found that 76.7% of female refugees had a Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI).
The study concluded that this large percentage was due to poor hygiene practice among women.
According to the study, “92% of women used a washed old cloth or rag to absorb menstrual flow, 1% used an unwashed old cloth, and 5% reported not using anything at all.”
These practices may be due to the astronomically high prices of feminine hygiene products in Afghanistan. For example, one menstrual pad can cost $4 USD in Afghanistan.
Within the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the need for reproductive health and feminine hygiene products has risen drastically in Puerto Rico.
Even before Hurricane Maria, there were significantly more females living in poverty in Puerto Rico than men and this only increased during the aftermath of Maria.
It can be extremely difficult for women living in poverty to obtain the feminine hygiene products that they need.
Some of this is due to the lack of resources and aid, but some of it may also be tied to the culture surrounding menstruation in Puerto Rico as well.
Jennifer, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, still visits their home country on a regular basis and grew up surrounded by Puerto Rican culture.
She talked about how menstruation was strictly a topic discussed by women and usually girls only talk about it with their mothers when they need something or have a question.
“What is taboo is that you don’t bring up periods at all in front of male family members, that’s seen as rude and gross,” Jennifer said regarding about how she grew up. “Also, you wouldn't ask your dad to buy you pads or whatever you use.”
Overall, Jennifer has found that largely in Puerto Rican culture, menstruation is seen as strictly a topic to be talked about amongst females and never around males.
Although the practice of chaupadi has technically been illegal since 2005, there are many small villages where the practice still takes place.
Chaupadi is a Hindu tradition in (mostly) western Nepal that keeps women who are menstruating out of the family house and places them in a separate hut because they are seen as impure while menstruating. This practice is based upon the myth that Indra (the king of the gods) used menstruation as a means to bring about a curse.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of State in 2015, “19 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 nationwide practiced chhaupadi, the problem was particularly acute in the hilly regions in the country’s mid- and far-west, where approximately 50 percent of women followed the practice.”
This not only puts women and girls in danger and can cause death, but it also limits a girl’s opportunity for an education.
Native American Cultures
Although Native American tribes hold different cultures and beliefs, many Native American tribes celebrate menstruating as opposed to thinking of it as cursed or a taboo subject.
In the Cree tradition for example, once a girl gets her first period, there is a Berry Fast where girls participate in a sacred fasting. During this time, they pray and practice self-reflection with other women in their family.
Akeesha Footman, an Anishinaabe Oshkiniikwe and wrote about her experience with Berry Fasting for Muskrat Magazine:
“A women’s full moon time or menstrual cycle is the sacred time of the month when we are connected to our grandmothers,” Footman said. “It is during our moon time when we are encouraged to speak with our grandmother and acknowledge the graciousness of life.”
It is clear that the overall mentality regarding menstruation and feminine hygiene differs greatly from culture to culture. While some cultures find menstruation as something to celebrate, other cultures see it as a curse and many individuals suffer and even die as a result.
Although different cultures and countries view menstruation differently, individuals who menstruate all want the same thing: a safe, healthy, and affordable way to experience menstruation. All of these individuals deserve this basic right and dignity. Menstruation should never be a hindrance to someone’s life. Overall, we have a long way to go in regards to destroying the negative stigma surrounding menstruation in order to promote healthy menstruation around the world.