Holy Hormones Journal: Am delighted to find this site and the work of a group of women in India educating young girls about menstrual hygiene. Mythri means ‘friend’ (female) in Sanskrit. I think/feel it is a powerful word – imparting wisdom for women in India. The Mythri project began in 2010 – with the intention to educate adolescent girls about menstrual awareness and to interact with the girl’s, their teachers and their parents about menstrual needs.
The group has visited many schools and they decided to create a 23 minute video – (below). The video incorporates the questions of 5,000 girls in government schools in Bangalore, Tumkur, Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kolar, Mangalore, Karwar, Gulbarga, Mandya and Chamrajnagar.
Mythri has been shared with heads of the Health Department and the Education Department of Karnataka. It has been greatly appreciated and encouraged by the government.
Menstrual taboos and ancient wisdom
“Why am I not allowed to visit a temple during my period?”
“Will the pickle really spoil if I touched it during menstruation?”
“Akka, why do they tell us not to touch anyone, to sit in a separate room and eat from a separate plate when we get our period?
Two thoughts play hide and seek in my mind as I try to answer these questions from young girls. One, that I should help them understand that these restrictions are not because they become impure or polluted during menstruation. Two, that I should never, ever, hurt their religious or cultural sentiments because I have neither the knowledge nor the right to make that judgement. The latter makes it difficult to do the former, and so round and round I go in my explanations, at best being able to tell them that these practises have been in place for ages to ensure women get some rest during their period. And leave them with the thought that it is their personal choice to follow these or not.
It is not once or twice that I have come across these questions as an educator on menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls. It is every single time. After having addressed more than 6000 adolescent girls from rural backgrounds over the last 4 years, you’d think that I’d have tried to come up with better explanations by now! The wake up call to find right answers to these questions came when I recently read what a well known educator/organization working on this issue had to say about such questions – the answers were a rude dismissal of such practises calling it superstition and unscientific, having no place in today’s time.
My first thought was – With what right do we dismiss someone else’s belief when we neither know the origin of such practises, nor its significance in the practitioner’s family?
My second, more interesting thought was – What if there was indeed some ancient story of menstrual magic hidden in these rituals, which we would lose out on in our arrogance of rubbishing these questions? Surely, something as natural as menstruation could not always have been looked down upon?
The urge to be able to talk to girls and women, especially from rural backgrounds, in their own language and way of thinking and give them back the meaning of their rituals, started me on this journey.
Please note that I have no scientific way of proving the validity of following content and my intention in this exploration is tounderstand what might have been the original reasons behind the rituals and taboo on menstruation.
Understanding the power of Menstrual cycles
Today, while most women and young girls in India are being told that menstruation is an impure, inconvenient, sad fate to be put up with, the Western world has gone a step ahead and invented pills that would help women no longer menstruate! Unlike what is now thought by most people, menstruation was originally considered a highly sacred process, equipping women with strong powers which could be life-giving (hence worshipping women) or dangerous (hence secluding menstruating women). Herein lies the beauty and the contradiction. To understand how this came about, we need to know how menstrual cycles are linked to moon cycles, and what changes each phase in the cycle brings.
Mythri is a 23 minute Animated Video in Kannada, which has been divided into 3 parts to enable facilitators to pause and interact with girls. The entire video can be viewed here.