Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

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Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Read the full article by Renu Kshetry here 👉 Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Bunu Dhungana is a professional photographer from Nepal who uses the images to share her anger about the patriarchal norms that underscore chhaupadi and how they affect the lives of women.

Under the centuries-old Hindu custom of chhaupadi, menstruating women and girls are isolated, banned from sacred places, prevented from touching religious icons or food, forced to sleep in huts and cattle sheds. Raised in an upper caste household, Bunu still questions why she was rejected by her own family for menstruating.

“Women spend the productive years of their lives ashamed of their own existence, which is a big blow to their self-esteem. This is how the patriarchy works, by making women show their ‘place’ as untouchable and controlled,” says Nepales gender expert and activist Radha Paudel.

Bunu has resorted to using her photographic series entitled ‘Confrontations’, which explores ideas of body, marriage, menstruation and beauty in asking what it means to be a woman in Nepal’s patriarchal Hindu society.



But the question is how can mindsets about traditional customs like Chauppadi be changed? Join the discussion and let us hear your thoughts.

Regards,
Machrine Birungi
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Dear Machrine,
There is no easy answer to the question you ask at the end of your post. On one hand, these customs have been practiced for generations and can be eliminated only gradually with education and awareness even with very strong laws. On the other hand, by continuing with them the society will continue to perpetuate injustice.  Women who have suffered because of such practices naturally don’t  want to wait any longer either. Even for women who accept it because of their upbringing or as fait accompli, it would be violation of their constitutional (in most democracies) and human right to equality.
 
Examples of practices that discriminate women for menstruating exist all around. Recently, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme court of India removed restrictions on entry of women in menstruating age to Sabarimala, a temple of a celibate lord in Kerala. However, women trying to enter the temple were stopped on their way by followers including women. They couldn't reach the temple even with police protection. For now, one can only hope women can safely enter the temple in future.  Some related news reports below:
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/sabarimala-case-sc-to-frame-questions-relating-to-discrimination-against-women-in-religions/articleshow/73894259.cms
https://www.news18.com/news/india/sabarimala-verdict-sabarimala-temple-news-online-supreme-court-2386121.html

Perhaps getting to roots of the custom/practice mayhelp. Menstruating women are not allowed to cook, mingle with others in my community. But I remember an argument that it began as a way to let women rest. Large joint families was the norm then and women did all the household chores, so that makes sense. I am guessing the logic was lost over time. If the root of the custom can be traced and awareness generation be centered around it, one can hope to get rid of such practices sooner. 

regards
paresh
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
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  • Machrine Birungi is a communications professional, award winning news reporter, writer, and journalist, with a passion for telling stories that help people make informed decisions. She is currently a social media analyst at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council in Geneva.
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Thank you Paresh for such a detailed and insightful thought provoking opinion. I was thrilled to learn about the origins of some of the cultural taboos. "Initially women were given an opportunity to rest during their periods," sounds very interesting in that context. But the debate on why there has been so much stigma around periods continues and mass awareness is needed to debunk the myths and move the issue of menstruation in a positive direction.

In my opinion, the discourse around  menstruation related myths and taboos needs a shift beyond the stigma,  to an open dialogue that involves both men and women, young and old and most importantly the policy makers. Policy makers most of whom are men need to rise up and support initiatives that drive increased awareness on menstruation and why it matters to revisit some of these cultural norms. 

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. 
Machrine Birungi
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Dear Machrine,

I think the best way some of this mindsets can be changed is by starting from the top i.e. government. The policies on how menstrual
management should be done can be made to integrate and show that this is a natural albeit private activity that should not be shunned but embraced. In Kenya for instance, tax on menstrual products was lowered.Currently, menstrual pads are being provided for free in all schools. Therefore, there is access for all because there is also a free education policy for primary and secondary level. To top this, last year the government passed a policy acknowledging menstrual health and hygiene as “a rights issue,” bringing it
into “the mainstream of the country’s health and development agenda by considering the prevailing social, economic, cultural and demographic contexts of women and girls. (I can’t quite trace the policy for reference. Could you have it? WSSCC was quite involved in the process. If you do please could you share on here.)
Understanding this therefore, it will no longer feel as a taboo to talk about Menstrual Health and Hygiene but as a normal activity that exists but needs to be handled well for everyone.

Regards
Charlotte  




Charlotte Mong'ina Maua
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Charlotte, thanks for pushing this discussion forward.
In my opinion breaking the taboo and stigma around menstruation should not start with the Government but rather at the lowest strata of society (Family, school, community)

Let me give you an example. The first person who guides a girl in relation to menstruation is either their parents, teachers or even peers. It's not the government that announces this. In the same vain, breaking the taboos must begin at that level. The parents, teachers and society at large must gradually pop out of the shells of myths and support the girls to understand that menstruation is a normal biological process. It's after that awareness has been cultivated that Government will then step in to reinforce this with policies.

I still think that the government should come in to reinforce the initiatives by local chiefs, civil society and community based organisations to break the taboos and stigma. 

While reading about Myths and taboos, I came across this article: Attitudes and taboos concerning menstruation.

According to this article, Taboos about discussing menstruation limit many women and girls’ access to information and support. Almost all research participants, including women and girls of all ages, described menstrual blood as “unclean”, and many said that they perceived it to be a “harmful” substance.

“I have never gone to church and I know it is not right to go to church when you are menstruating. Even if it is my third day and the pain is no longer there, I cannot take dirt to church,” said a woman during an in-depth interview.

Girls in school stated that some teachers support them by providing information, often informal, based on the general knowledge and worldview of the teacher rather than on the official curriculum. Information tended to focus on advising girls about keeping clean and avoiding boys rather than emphasizing knowledge about the biological aspects of menstruation. However, taboos around menstruation may also limit the amount of support that teachers provide to girls, as demonstrated in the following quotation:

“When a girl starts to menstruate, as I told you, they don’t know what a period is. So most of them take a cloth or even paper, and you know paper cannot hold that thing, especially when that girl has a heavy flow. When a girl stands and [...] she has that thing on the dress, all the other girls go mocking her, talking about her… and even the teachers are ashamed,” said a teacher during a key informant interview.

Read more here www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/site...f_Mooncups_Kenya.pdf
Machrine Birungi
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Dear Machrine,
Thank you for your response. It is well in order that the sensitization should start at home. I however thought given the angle the document was giving that it is already a taboo to talk about the menstrual hygiene, under the Hindu custom of chhaupadi, the government coming in and giving its backing will definitely force the parents, teachers and the society to talk about it and not shun away. After that they will feel that they have the law and the go ahead to talk and even make a step towards demolishing the menstrual hut.

Regards
Charlotte




Charlotte Mong'ina Maua
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Dear Machrine,
There is no denying that  busting of the taboo and stigma associated with menstruation needs to start at the lowest strata, i.e. family, school and community. You state:

The parents, teachers and society at large must gradually pop out of the shells of myths and support the girls to understand that menstruation is a normal biological process. 

But how will this happen without active support of the government? If the teachers themselves are ashamed as the quote towards the end of your post implies, somebody will have to educate the teachers and parents so that they pass on the message to adolescent girls and boys no? 
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
Researcher at Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay, India
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @Sparsh85
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  • Machrine Birungi is a communications professional, award winning news reporter, writer, and journalist, with a passion for telling stories that help people make informed decisions. She is currently a social media analyst at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council in Geneva.
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Re: Demolishing menstrual huts, a powerful start, but how do we demolish the mindset?

Dear Paresh. 
Thank you so much for your input into this discussion. Yes I see the point. There is a saying in my language "It takes a village to raise a child" 
Why a village? and not  government.

The point here is simple that the village is one of the smallest unit of society and it's easier for people to spark conversations within a smaller unit and cascading these conversations outwards.

I agree entirely with a recent report by the World Bank that illustrates how a total disregard of menstrual health and hygiene needs only serves to entrench the status of women and girls.

Machrine Birungi 


Machrine Birungi
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