by Nadiah Mohajir
I recently came across Menstrupedia.com, a virtual resource developed by some individuals in India who wanted to create a guide for women and girls on staying healthy during their periods. The website offers information through different media, and aims to dispel many of the myths and misinformation that have been prevalent in India for hundreds of years, such as the common misunderstanding that women should not bathe or leave the home during their periods and that they should keep their periods a secret from men.
Sites like Menstrupedia.com are pioneering in their effort to shatter the stigma and shame around an issue that should be seen as a natural part of life. Their approach should be used as a model as we as a community start thinking about how to present these topics in a way that is both medically accurate as well as respectful of our faith’s tradition of modesty. Here are some ways the founder of this resource has brilliantly managed to do both:
- The site uses accurate, medical information from reputable sources, along with animated non-offensive graphics and cartoon people as visuals to explain the menstrual process, hygiene and care, and puberty.
- The site uses a FAQ system to dispel common myths prevalent in India.
- The site has a blog that uses storytelling, factual articles, short video clips and poetry using imagery, references, and media that are relevant to India to raise awareness about topics concerning menstruation.
This is a great website for mothers and daughters to look through together to start a dialogue about menstruation and puberty. The hush-hush nature and embarrassment that is associated with menstruation in the Muslim, particularly the South Asian, communities creates many unhealthy attitudes towards menstruation, perpetuates misinformation and myths, and serves as an obstacle for many young girls to learn about their bodies and be comfortable with them. Through HEART’s fieldwork, we have met numerous young Muslim girls and even adult women, as well as males, who did not demonstrate having adequate knowledge about menstruation. We met:
- a fifth grader who missed three weeks of school, feigning illness because she thought she was dying when she started her period, not knowing what it was, too afraid to ask her mother or another adult.
- adolescent girls who were not permitted to attend sex education classes, and therefore did not understand the biology of menstruation.
- adolescent girls and adult women who did not know the fiqh of menstruation and ghusl (the Islamic process of ritual purity after menstruation is over).
- adolescent girls and adult women who did not know how to use a tampon.
- adult women – both married and unmarried – who did not know their basic anatomy.
- women and girls who carried with them many myths surrounding menstruation and other reproductive health topics, such as you can’t swim when you have your period, and you are not a virgin if you wear a tampon.
- boys and men who had limited accurate knowledge about the biology and anatomy of menstruation, as well as many many myths surrounding menstruation.
The stories of the women (and men) above are just a few reasons we need to change the status quo and start having conversations with both males and females about menstruation and other reproductive health topics. We will not be able to facilitate systemic change or influence cultural attitudes toward menstruation if we do not actively engage in dialogue. The founders of Menstrupedia.com saw a timely opportunity and took steps to challenge the status quo. I was really pleased to see this effort and look forward to seeing many more like this.