It is no taboo that menstruation is a taboo in our culture. We all have stories of channels switched, feet shuffled and awkward glances exchanged as whispers of the world used blue liquids and white bottoms to offer a solution to that time of the month. Or of wondering why our mothers used adult diapers. Or of young boys being curious if one of them felt unwell instead of a girl classmate, would they still get a 15 minutes sports break in between a hindi class?
Gender sensitization is the process of understanding that the characteristics we associate with an individual being born to a certain sex are social constructs, and not biological hardwiring except the physical ability to carry a child and give birth. It is also the process of understanding how this social construct of gender ensures that exploitative and misogynist social systems like patriarchy continue to exist and of building sensitivity towards the pressures and demands that gender exerts on individuals. Such sensitivity towards others and oneself empowers individuals to break gender stereotypes and norms thereby dismantling the power structures of patriarchy in the long-term.
Gender sensitization promotes reflection and conversations on prevalent socio-cultural notions around women’s bodies, sexuality and menstruation. This new perspective on how one sees women, men and others around them also instigates questioning of age-old social norms and their relevance and impact in the current context. It helps individuals recognize reality beyond the social narrative and explore their own capacities beyond these notions.
sensitivity towards others and oneself empowers individuals to break gender stereotypes and norms thereby dismantling the power structures of patriarchy in the long-term
In the absence of gender sensitization, it is both assumed and undisputedly accepted that men biologically more aggressive and lustful, while women cannot be good at mathematics because of how their brain is and are supposed grow up to be doting mothers. Just like these, it is also assumed that the social norms around menstruation are scientific truths, for eg. menstrual blood and menstruating women are considered impure, and hence it is regarded wrong to discuss menstruation, especially with men or in public. If someone begins to question the scientific legitimacy of such norms, they will ask questions around bacteria count in menstrual blood, effects of menstruation on women’s bodies and the need to sweep this topic of conversation under the carpet. Such enquiry will unearth that social norms around menstruation are a farce and menstruation is a perfectly healthy and natural phenomenon.
Gender sensitization can empower individuals to rely more on personal experiences, observations, enquiry and conversations for understanding reality, especially those that are different from theirs. And this creates an opportunity to normalize menstruation and encourage a supportive and sensitive environment for women to discuss their challenges, celebrations and even mundane stories around menstruation. An environment where people accept women’s biological reality rather than the one that is socially expected, and an environment that inspires women and men to respect women’s bodies.
Arushi Mittal’s contribution for Menstrual Hygiene Day