One Step Forward and Two Steps Back
The week began on a very promising note with the headlines that read- ‘Supreme Court shatters glass ceiling for women army officers’. With this decision, the SC dealt a strong blow to the gender parity in the army. The army has been directed to give women permanent commission within three months. The celebratory noises hadn’t died yet when close on its heels came two extremely disturbing news.
The first news spoke about the girls (almost sixty of them) in a hostel in Gujrat’s Kutch region, who were allegedly asked to strip to their undergarments to prove that they were (not) menstruating. This was in reactions to the complaints that girls had entered the temple and kitchen premises during their periods. Apparently, it is mandatory for the girls to declare their period in a register and move to the hostel’s basement for three days. They are prohibited to enter the main dining hall and are served food in a passage.
In a related news, a ‘Swami’ who is a member of the sect that runs the aforementioned institution, declared that if menstruating women cook they will be born as a bitch in their next life. He goes on to say that the men who consume this food would be born an ‘ox’ in their next birth. The irony of what he chose for both genders isn’t lost on me. But given the situation, that’s not even important.
One more time, we have been made aware of the disparity in our society. For all the strides we might have taken in terms of education, technology, health (especially women’s), we still have amongst us a huge chunk of population that chooses to spread and believe in myths like these.
As a doctor, a woman and a mother to a daughter, I have been consciously trying to bring out the topic of menstruation in the open. There are many like me who are doing the same. The idea is to destigmatise it, to rid it of the myths that shroud it. So that eventually each one of us can say out the word ‘MENSTRUATION’ out loud. So that no one squirms when asking for sanitary napkins. But every time someone makes such irresponsible comments, especially if (s)he is in a place of power, all the hard work just goes for a toss.
I see a lot of people have taken to social media to ridicule and deride these comments but these are the people who anyway don’t believe in this rubbish. For them it is a venting out mechanism, nothing more, nothing less. My concern is for the fence sitters and those who are still steeped in old beliefs. What impact do such statements have on them? I can almost see them smirking in satisfaction at the validation of their beliefs.
These are serious setbacks for women, not only in terms of menstrual health and hygiene but also their freedom and empowerment. For them it’s like a frustrating games of snakes and ladders with the snakes getting longer and ladders being short.
In 2020, from where I see it, for every woman who gets commissioned in the army, we have so many more who are barred from entering their own kitchens, their bedrooms, their places of worship.