19/12/2015 8:08 AM IST | Updated 21/07/2016 2:44 PM IST

Think It's Just India? Menstrual Taboos Stain The West Too

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Pardon the irony, but it's no secret that menstruation is a big secret in India. Not only do women have to find creative ways to hide this 'shame' from men, but the lack of education and information on this issue means that girls starting puberty often do not know why they menstruate. Women of India: be surprised to know that some of these issues are not unique to India -- menstruation is also a taboo in the West.

Sanitary products are taxed in the UK (it's dubbed the "tampon tax") like any luxury item, despite the fact that the government's healthcare service (NHS) provides free contraception and flat-fee medication which is free for the most vulnerable. This is based on the idea that no-one should fall below a certain standard. Yet there is no state provision for even the poorest menstruating women, and homeless women have to rely on charities to meet sanitary needs. The issue is not just at the top, it is deep-rooted in social attitudes -- such as a refusal to discuss this issue -- which then influence policy and taxation.

The similarities in attitudes across the cultural divide present a strong base on which we can build a movement.

This context means that British Indian women face similar issues to their Indian counterparts, perhaps with the only major difference being the access to sanitary products. The inability of wider British society to discuss this issue openly means there is no narrative for British Indian women and girls to draw on when challenging the negativity surrounding menstruation. Customs and traditions surrounding menstruation have been brought over from India practically unchanged -- ranging from not touching food or entering the kitchen, to avoiding religious activities while menstruating.

With the same stigmas remaining, discussion on menstruation means discussing sex. With wider Western social attitudes being so liberal on the topic, living in the Diaspora gives Indian families less space to shy away from discussions on sexuality. Discussing menstruation in this context may, therefore, add to the pressure to confront uncomfortable realities, coupled with fears of a slippery slope that leads to girls damaging the honour of their families.

Avoiding disgusting and embarrassing men, keeping purchases of sanitary products secret, and lack of discussion are all commonplace in wider British society. This bleak reality, which affects both the physical and mental well-being of women and girls everywhere, presents a unique opportunity on which we can unify. This is not limited to educating girls and women about menstruation. The stigma must be removed in the minds of both women and men, whose sensibilities some women are conditioned to appease.

The similarities in attitudes across the cultural divide present a strong base on which we can build a movement. Developing solidarity between cultures and communities to educate, remove the stigma and enhance the menstrual health of women and girls everywhere serves to advantage the way in which we can tackle this issue. It's time to rally around together and stop the silence: period.

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