Picture from Unsplash Sonika Agarwal

When your Body and Beliefs are at Odds: the Religious Taboo of Menstruation

I know that talking about these traditions is hard. Yet, discriminatory practices will continue unless they are addressed.

Story by Shakila Dhauntal. Edited by Melaina Dyck
Netherlands, Western Europe
Published on March 25, 2021

Reading time: 4 minutes



Throughout history, major religions have, in one way or another, excluded menstruating women from religious spaces and attached the notion of “impurity” to menstruation.[1] Last year, I watched a documentary on Netflix about the stigmatization of menstruation in India, in which a young Hindu woman visits the temple and raises the same point of confusion that I have had: “The goddess to whom we pray is a woman just like us. I don’t agree with the rule that we are not allowed to enter the temple when we menstruate.”[2]


I grew up being excluded from religious festivities while menstruating

The two exclusions that I grew up with are not being allowed to enter the temple and not participating in religious rites while menstruating. For many women, exclusion includes being forbidden to cook, bathe, touch their husbands or even live in their own houses during their periods, because it is believed that only evil things come from a woman who menstruates. I have noticed that menstrual taboos make women feel uneasy and ashamed. Menstrual taboos blur the lines between private and public and expose issues related to gender inequality, hierarchies, and boundaries of power. For example, when a woman does not help with preparations for a religious ceremony, the family will deduce that she is menstruating. This places women in a position of shame, because they have no say in whether this matter stays private. I find it interesting that women will say things like “I can’t help,” whereas they can help, but are not allowed to. The notion that a woman’s body can be in a state of purity or impurity perpetuates the unequal dynamics between men and women. Women are dirty, while men are pure and clean.

As a Hindu from the Surinamese-Indian community in the Netherlands, I grew up being excluded from religious festivities while menstruating. Some years ago, I started taking Indian classical dance classes. In my class, there are girls and women of all ages. Discussions with my classmates on menstruation forced me to reconsider the concept of impurity. I talked with women who believe in the tradition of excluding menstruating women and with women who question the tradition. When a line gets drawn on the floor and someone persistently tells you throughout your life that you should not step over it, you are not going to step over it even when the line fades. Through these discussions, I realized that shame is learned. I believe that girls should not be taught to feel ashamed of their bodily functions. 


Girls should not be taught to feel ashamed

Menstruation is a natural process that indicates the vitality of a woman’s body. It is part of the reproductive system and without it the birth of new life would not be possible. The exclusion of women in social and religious activities without proper explanation or holding men accountable to the same purity standards is unreasonable. I know that talking about these traditions is hard. Yet, discriminatory practices will continue to confuse women and perpetuate imbalanced gender relations unless they are openly and considerately addressed. These taboos need to change.

To learn more about menstruation taboos, read stories by Chandra Bhadra and Pabita Timilshina about gender-based untouchability in Nepal. 


[1] Bhartiya, A. (2013). Menstruation, religion and society. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity3(6), 523.

[2] Netflix. (2020) Period. End of Sentence.

 


How does this story make you feel?

Follow us on Social Media

Talk about this Story

Please enable cookies to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Stay up to date with new stories on Correspondents of the World by subscribing to our monthly newsletter:

* indicates required

Shakila Dhauntal

Shakila Dhauntal

Shakila has finished her studies in BA International Studies and MSc Public Administration. She has visited more than thirty countries over the world from Cuba to China and has lived in Dubai. Shakila is passionate about international development challenges regarding poverty, education, food production, and women empowerment. In these areas, she likes to contribute to creating opportunities that help people to grow and flourish. In line with her creative nature, she dances Kathak (Indian classical dance) and hip-hop, loves to paint, and works on improving her photography skills in her free time. Oh, and she loves bonding over food with friends and family. Read more from Shakila on her blog, Our Shakti

Topic: Gender

Maria Sotiropoulou
> Greece
The moment a girl becomes a woman: a story of psychological abuse - Part 1

A story by Maria Sotiropoulou

I observed women around me falling over and over again. I did not think that at some point in my life I might fall too.

> Read More


> Germany
Growing up in a Straight World

A story by Luca Kraus

Retrospectively, it comes as no surprise. Everything around me gave me the impression that there was only one sexuality within society. From tv shows I watched to books I read, couples and families I knew, conversations with my friends, and things that we were taught in school.

> Read More


> Denmark
Applying the Lessons I Learnt in Anthropology to my Art

A story by Julie Celina Linnebjerg

I want to apply the lessons I learned in anthropology to my art, and give more attention to the underrepresented and marginalised.

> Read More


Get involved

At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.

Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.

Share Your Story

Community Worldwide

Correspondents of the World is not just this website, but also a great community of people from all over the world. While face-to-face meetings are difficult at the moment, our Facebook Community Group is THE place to be to meet other people invested in Correspondents of the World. We are currently running a series of online-tea talks to get to know each other better.

Join Our Community

EXPLORE TOPIC Gender

> Belize
Gender-neutral Toilets – A Safe Space Taken Away?

A story by Robin Schaffer

In the moment you face discrimination, harassment, and assault based on your breasts and the vulnerability of your vagina, it's your body they are after.

> Read More

> Nepal
Gender-Based Untouchability

A story by Pabita Timilshina

If I had one wish, it would be for girls to be free, free to choose what they want to become, not to be dominated by men. Women to have their own voice without being ashamed of what society might think. Our place is not just in the kitchen or to have babies, we have our own lives. I wished for everyone to have the same rights.

> Read More

Or read it in br de it tr

> Australia
Bisexual Men: Do We Even Exist?

A story by Hal Fulcher

With so much recent acceptance of the idea of sexuality being a spectrum, the fact bisexual men even feel the need to defend our very existence seems very quaint in 2020.

> Read More

Or read it in br de it kr nl

> Netherlands
Does Dutch Tolerance Form a Barrier to the True Acceptance of Minorities?

A story by Hugo Oms

Gay men almost enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexuals and therefore are formally accepted. However, my personal experience has taught me that social acceptance of homosexuality is often dependent on numerous conditions.

> Read More

Or read it in de it kr nl tr

> Morocco
The Girl in the Skirt

A story by Hajar Lassiliya

You may wonder what is it like to be a woman who lives in a country that lacks security?

> Read More

Or read it in de it kr tr

> Germany
Growing up in a Straight World

A story by Luca Kraus

Retrospectively, it comes as no surprise. Everything around me gave me the impression that there was only one sexuality within society. From tv shows I watched to books I read, couples and families I knew, conversations with my friends, and things that we were taught in school.

> Read More

Or read it in de ru tr

Global Issues Through Local Eyes

We are Correspondents of the World, an online platform where people from all over the world share their personal stories in relation to global development. We try to collect stories from people of all ages and genders, people with different social and religious backgrounds and people with all kinds of political opinions in order to get a fuller picture of what is going on behind the big news.

Our Correspondents

At Correspondents of the World we invite everyone to share their own story. This means we don't have professional writers or skilled interviewers. We believe that this approach offers a whole new perspective on topics we normally only read about in the news - if at all. And in case you wondered: Everyone includes you as well. Do you have a story to share? Reach out to us and let us know!

Share Your Story

Our Community

Although we just started a few months ago, we already have a great community of people from all over the world. While face-to-face meetings are difficult at the moment, our Facebook Community Group is THE place to be to meet other people invested in Correspondents of the World. We are currently running a series of online-tea talks to get to know each other better.

Join Our Community

Vision

At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.

Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.

Topics

We believe in quality over quantity. To start off with, we collect personal stories that relate to our correspondents' experiences with five global topics:

Environment

Discussions about the environment often center on grim, impersonal figures. Among the numbers and warnings, it is easy to forget that all of these statistics actually also affect us - in very different ways. We believe that in order to understand the immensity of environmental topics and global climate change, we need the personal stories of our correspondents.

Gender

Gender is the assumption of a "normal". Unmet expectations of what is normal are a world-wide cause for violence. We hope that the stories of our correspondents will help us to better understand the effects of global developments related to gender and sexuality, and to reveal outdated concepts that have been reinforced for centuries.

Migration

Our correspondents write about migration because it is a deeply personal topic that is often dehumanized. People quickly become foreigners, refugees - a "they". But: we have always been migrating, and we always will. For millions of different reasons. By sharing personal stories about migration, we hope to re-humanize this global topic.

Liberation

We want to support the demand for justice by spotlighting the personal stories of people who seek liberation in all its different forms. Our correspondents share their individual experiences in creating equality. We hope that for some this will be an encouragement to continue their own struggle against inequality and oppression - and for some an encouragement to get involved.

Corona Virus

2020 is a year different from others before - not least because of the Corona pandemic. The worldwide spread of a highly contagious virus is something that affects all of us in very different ways. To get a better picture of how the pandemic's plethora of explicit and implicit consequences influences our everyday life, we share lockdown stories from correspondents all over the world.

Get Involved

We believe that every single personal story contributes to a better understanding of the complex world we live in - and the people we share it with. That includes yours! We would be really happy if you would like to share your story, too, and join our community.

Share Your Story

Growing Fast

Although we started just over a year ago, Correspondents of the World has a quickly growing community of correspondents - and a dedicated team of editors, translators and country managers.

52

Correspondents

63

Stories

38

Countries

127

Translations

Contact

Correspondents of the World is as much a community as an online platform. Please feel free to contact us for whatever reason!

Message Us

Message on WhatsApp

Call Us

Joost: +31 6 30273938