Imagine being nine years old, starting your period for the very first time, and being told to stay for seven days in a menstrual hut away from your family, as you're considered "impure" during your periods.
Or maybe you have to hide that you’ve started menstruating because as soon as your family knows, you'll be considered mentally and physically "ready for marriage", or someone will slap you across the face to keep your cheeks "red and beautiful"?
What if you couldn’t go inside the kitchen, hold your baby brother, or attend a wedding because you were considered "bad luck" during your period?
What if you were forced to leave school upon starting your first period?
Unfortunately, all of these myths present barriers to the health, equality, and mobility of women and girls.
Why do periods myths exist?
All of the alarming scenarios above are a reality for many girls and women around the world. This is because in many countries and societies, sex education is considered completely taboo in homes and classrooms and menstrual education is never provided to boys or girls. Young people get their menstrual education from a mixture of media, friends, siblings, and the internet.
Another reason these period myths have been perpetuated for so long is because better understanding and research around women's health has not been prioritized by governments, healthcare institutions, and academia.
Give me the low-down, what have I got wrong?
Myth 1: Don't bathe or swim while you're menstruating.
This is one of the most popular myths around the world that comes down from generations of grandmas who have warned women that a bath or a swim in the pool/river could pause their flow of menstrual blood forever.
Although menstrual blood often does pause when in water, fortunately it continues after a short while. There's no long-term irreversible damage from showering or bathing from the first day to the last day of your period.
Myth 2: You can't have fish or drink milk during your period.
There are absolutely no strict dietary changes you need to make during your period. Everything in moderation is allowed and healthy. Both milk and fish are fairly nutritious and shouldn't be avoided. It's recommended that you don't consume caffeine or alcohol excessively.
Myth 3: Starting your period means you're now a full-grown adult.
In many conservative cultures, the start of your period is considered the end of childhood. Often, the onset of periods leads to parents planning their daughters' marriage prospects. Due to climatic and dietary changes, girls are starting their periods as early as 8.
To assume a girl is ready for any adult responsibilities like marriage or having a child just because she's had her period is entirely unfair. New research is emerging that our brains are still developing even into our thirties.
Sara lives in rural Sindh and just started her period for the very first time, Her grandmother looked worried and told her to hide her period from her parents. Why do you think she asked Sara to hide her period from her parents?
What kind of menstrual superstitions exist?
Myth 4: When you're menstruating, don't touch newborns, family pets, plants, or livestock, because they'll get sick, wither, or die.
In many cultures, there's such intense disgust with the menstrual process that someone who is bleeding is considered dirty, unlucky, impure, or even cursed.
Myth 5: Don't cook during your periods or go inside the kitchen.
Many faith leaders have indoctrinated people into believing that a menstruating woman who cooks food for her husband would be reborn as a dog in her next life and the men who consume food prepared by someone on their periods would be reborn as bullocks.
Myth 6: Your period blood has magical properties.
In many cultures, the time of your period is thought to be a special time where you have intuitive abilities and can develop strange powers. In fact, these ideas are so pervasive that women don't put their menstrual pads, cloth, or rags in the sun for fear of someone seeing and putting a spell on them.
In many communities, even disposable sanitary pads are washed before being thrown away, as some people believe they can be used for black magic. It's also believed by many that period blood can be used for magic to lure a partner or improve your skin tone.
Why should I care about period misinformation?
1 — Period misconceptions are causing alarming health issues and deaths around the world.
Certain ideas like not showering during your period have been linked to reproductive tract and urinogenital infections.
2 — Period myths lead to limited mobility for girls.
Myths like not walking, exercising, or doing any strenuous activity during their period can result in girls staying home and not engaging in education and employment opportunities.
3 — Period misinformation leads to seclusion, depression, and mental health issues.
In Nepal, women and girls die of snake bites, electrocution, and fires because they are sent away to often unsafe and faraway menstrual huts during their periods.
4 — Period myths play a role in girls dropping out of school, and getting married early.
In countries like Pakistan, the onset of puberty or a girl's period brings pressure of marriage and this often leads to girls dropping out of school.
Can boys and men play a role in spreading misinformation?
Absolutely! Men and boys should not feel shy talking about or trying to better understand periods. This is the only way to bring an end to menstrual myths, taboos, and misinformation.
They should be included in period conversations at home and in schools. Daughters should be comfortable speaking about their periods to their fathers and married women should be comfortable discussing it with their partners.
What can you do to provide your community with accurate information about menstruation?