Here Are 4 Cultures That Actually Respect Menstrual Cycles

August 18th 2015

While women and men alike are trying to end the stigma around periods through social media campaigns and awareness in the U.S., people still display discomfort when the subject of menstruation comes up, and many young women are taught not to talk about this biological function. In a new piece for NPR, Susan Brink says that it does not have to be this way, considering that other cultures actually treat women well during their cycles.

Alma Gottlieb, a professor of anthropology and gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois, told the publication that certain societies view menstrual cycles as a time for cleansing.

Here are several instances in which societies did not look down on menstruation.

Yurok tribe

"Yurok, a native tribe from the northwest coast of the United States stratified by class, had a group of aristocratic women who saw their periods as a time for purifying themselves," she said. "They were on a shared menstrual cycle and did a series of rituals during the cycle that they said was a period of their most heightened spiritual experience."

Ulithi women

Gottlieb added that Ulithi women who are menstruating or breastfeeding go into huts create "kind of a party atmosphere." Though not all huts foster positive experiences, the ones that do work well for the women.

Ghana and Ivory Coast

She said that certain parts of Ghana treat women like royalty when they're menstruating. The women relax under gorgeous umbrellas and receive presents and praise from others.

Gottlieb was also taken aback by a conversation she had with an older male religious leader on the Ivory Coast, "[He] told me menstruation is like the flower of a tree. You need the flower before the tree can fruit," she says. "That's a very different ideology than the ideology of sin, dirt, pollution."

The NPR article comes shortly after Donald Trump was criticized for saying Fox News host Megyn Kelly had "blood coming out of her... wherever" when she challenged his historic treatment of women at the first presidential debate. Though he denied he was talking about Kelly's menstrual cycle, the damage had already been done and many felt he had perpetuated the unfortunate taboo surrounding menstruation in our country.

Following this incident, many took to Twitter to post the hashtag #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult and share details about their menstrual cycles with the presidential candidate:

Earlier this year, ATTN: reported on the struggles many homeless women endure to acquire feminine products during their cycles. Molly Moen, COO of the Downtown Women's Center in Los Angeles, told ATTN: at the time that she has seen firsthand how difficult this can be for women in such situations.

"[I]n general, it's one of those things that people don't talk about very much," Moen told ATTN:. "Certainly not in very formal settings. [Women] have very distinct needs and we really do need to be paying attention to them, even if they are things that folks are sometimes uncomfortable talking about."

Some cultures have an even harsher approach to menstruation

While NPR showed that some cultures tackle menstruation in a more respectable way than the U.S., there are plenty of other countries and cultures that treat the biological function like it's cause for shame. In 2011, the New York Times interviewed Fatih Yoye, a woman from a village in Niger who said females are seen as tainted on their cycles.

"Those several days of the month served as a hiatus," Saumya Dave wrote in a piece for the Times. "She was not allowed to pray. If her period arrived in the time of fasting, she had to stop fasting and make it up afterwards. Most chores were off limits as well. Fatih could not prepare food or collect water. The other women in the village would help her fetch water from the well. She said that she used cloth rags as protection. They were washed daily and hung inside her hut, away from the other clothes that were allowed to dry outside, to minimize embarrassment."

In this same report, Dave noted that menstruation impacts the education of many young women in Africa. If they do not have the resources to take care of their periods, they struggle to concentrate in class. If they have to step out multiple times to change their rags, they are frequently subjected to cruelty from male classmates. They might also skip school during menstruation.

"Based on what I observed in the villages I visited, there seemed to be a strict link between biology and religion vis a vis menstruation protocol," Dave wrote. "Muslim women in villages and urban areas seemed to abide by the same constraints during their periods. Raised in a Hindu household, I myself was forbidden to go to the temple during this time... Menstruation may be a taboo topic but that may be the exact same reason it deserves to be written about more."

Last year, a 32-year-old Indian woman named Manju Baluni told BBC that menstruation is taboo in the country and that she's been ostracized during her own cycle.

"I'm not allowed into the kitchen, I can't enter the temple, I can't sit with others," she said.

Some think it's only a "woman's" issue

Anshu Gupta, who founded humanitarian organization Goonj in India, said the issue is that some people treat menstruation as a woman issue when it is actually an issue that affects all people.

"It's not a women issue," Gupta said. "It's a human issue but we have just isolated it. Some of us need to come out of this culture of shame and silence. We need to break it."

h/t NPR

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