(CNS): The photograph accompanying this article, was clicked on Chinese New Year (16th February 2018) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is a signpost/ notice written in Thai, English and Chinese (in that order) in a temple, having a statue of Ganesha, situated in the heart of the city in front of Maya Mall. I reproduce the English version:

“1. Women during pregnancy and menstruation are not allowed to visit

  1. Non vegetarian food and some fruits such as sapodilla plum, monkey apple, custard apple, langsad (langsart) and longkong are strictly not allowed

  2. Please take off your shoes

Thank you for your prompt compliance with this notification.”

This disgustingly shocking and audacious signpost appears in a country where women value their bodily autonomy and rights fiercely, or so do I believe. This seems to be the work of some ignorant and conservative religious Hindu outfit that is up in arms against gender equality, but, of course it must be having the sanction of the concerned local authorities. I do not know if there have been protests against this disparaging and discriminatory directive.

Perhaps for Thai women the notice does not merit any attention, as they couldn’t care less, having already achieved a high level of independence. But in countries like India, sexual and reproductive health and rights, that are an integral part of gender justice, are still a far cry for most women. Bizarre cultural beliefs regarding menstruation are very much prevalent India and Nepal (and maybe in other countries of this region too).

Break taboos around menstruation

Menstruation in India has always been surrounded by myths and is still a taboo topic, that is discussed in hushed tones, if at all. In Indian culture, women are believed to be unclean and impure while menstruating, and are thus forbidden to enter temples or take part in religious activities. Menstruating women are also deemed unhygienic and hence not allowed to cook food or even touch certain food items like pickles etc. for fear of contaminating them. These practices are rampant in even the so-called educated households. In Nepal, the local Hindu culture dictates that women live in a cattle shed or a makeshift hut during menstruation- a practise known as Chhaupadi. It was banned by the Nepalese Supreme Court in 2005, but is still prevalent.

Yet, we all know that menstruation is a normal biological process and that menstruating girls and women are not unclean, rather they are normal and healthy. Also as long as general hygiene measures are followed, no scientific test has shown menstruation as the reason for spoilage of any food.

When women are treated differently because of a naturally occurring cyclic phenomenon, it creates shame, embarrassment and humiliation and adversely impacts their mental and physical health, as well as their right to equality in various spheres of life. A large number of girls are forced to drop out of school in rural India because of menstruation.

It is important to combat the myths and social taboos associated with menstruation to, not only improve the reproductive health of girls/women, but also allow them equal opportunities and not restrict them in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating. Feminist organisations across the region have been fighting against these and other discriminatory practices that are so rampant even today in some societies.

The afore mentioned notice goes one step further by barring pregnant women too from the temple premises, as if they too are unfit to enter the sanctum. Whew!

Subtly trying to perpetrate such decadent beliefs (all in the name of religion), and that too in a progressive country like Thailand, is a dangerous trend and must be nipped in the bud. Statements like these simply endorse stereotype practices that are an affront to the dignity of womanhood and stumbling blocks in the path of achieving gender justice. Women human rights defenders have to be vigilant evermore to prevent the spreading of such false propaganda.

Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor of CNS (Citizen News Service) and has written extensively on health and gender justice over decades. Follow her on Twitter @shobha1shukla or visit CNS:

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One Comment

  1. Sally Dugman says:

    I have no problem worshiping the vast beyond according to the customs of a particular religion and faith group within that religion. I feel honored to be included. So I can get on my knees on a little bench in front of my seat in a Catholic church and make the sign of the cross across my chest. I can be on my knees on a little rug in a mosque and i can go prostrate, and I am very sincere in my respect and worship according to the way that it is done.

    What I can’t tolerate is meanness and violence. … In my view it is mean AND stupid to denigrate women based on something that they are not responsible for having — menstruation. It is not dirty. It is a part of life like eating, urinating, pooping and breathing. And being pregnant is a cause for joy much of them time — certainly not a shame.

    I refuse to accept meanness or violence in any religion. I would never visit this temple pictured. It reminds me too much of Jim Crow laws of the times before the US Civil Rights Movement when blacks were excluded from certain bathrooms,restaurants, water fountains and so on…. I’m sorry that I have to call it what it is: It IS discrimination based on a condition and that is NOT what religion should be about. It is supposed to lift a person, not make him or her feel ugly, unacceptable and dirty. So it is like racism and bigotry to exclude pregnant or menstruating women. It is exclusion based on some supersticious backwards notion.

    Recently I wrote some of my friends:

    I know an extremely elderly lady who has had a lot of spinal surgery and who is in constant physical pain nearly all of the time. If her praying to Jesus and watching cheerful Hallmark movies uplifts her, what sort of mean arrogance would I have to try to take that away?

    If someone prays to a blue God with lots of arms or an elephant God and s/he has the same uplift, who am I to undermine such a benefit? I am not cruel and my attitude is that if you can’t bring something good, at least do no harm.

    The only religious views that I detest are the ones that lead to rape, other sorts of harm and murder, such as happened to this poor Muslim boy when a bunch of Hindus attacked him. I have no tolerance for this sort of behavior any more than I go forward for any other form of bigotry.

    I refuse to hate people with any particular religious views or with none at all (atheists and the wavering agnostics). I do, though, deeply — and I mean deeply — hate this following sort of behavior, including the murderous behavior in northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics while even involving the killing of children there.

    On Mathura-bound train, 15-year-old killed … – The Indian Express › India
    Jun 24, 2017 – “They noticed we are Muslims because of our clothing and began taunting us. … On his way home in a Mathura-bound train, with his elder brother Hashim and two friends, Junaid was stabbed to death, allegedly by “a group of 10-12 men between 7-8 … He was a healthy kid but he never fought with anyone.