Imagine this scene: a young girl who is perhaps just 10 or 11 years old is laughing and playing with her friends outside her house when suddenly, she stops, a fearful look crossing her face. Quickly, she runs back into her house and closes herself in the bathroom. She is not sure why her underwear feels moist, and when she checks, she is shocked to find large patches of blood on it. Panic seizes her, and she wonders if she should tell her mother. What is happening to me?
The above scenario, unfortunately, is not uncommon even today. Worldwide, every year, millions of girls enter menarche or the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Many of them confront this new reality with shock, anxiety, and fear because they are not prepared for it. In other words, nobody told them about it.
Which brings us to the question: who should guide and educate pre-puberty girls on menstruation facts?
Hearing it from the mother
As suggested by several studies, the answer is clear: the mother has the most vital role in educating her daughter/s about this biological reality. Irrespective of culture, religion, and even socioeconomic status, all experts agree that the best introduction to a girl’s monthly periods must come from her mother. However, this is easier said than done because many factors play a role in the mother’s ability to undertake her responsibility with awareness. These include educational background, ethnicity, social pressures, and psychological make-up.
According to studies, a sense of shame about periods prevents many mothers from educating their daughters about it. Some studies show that girls get information on this gynaecological reality only after the periods have started. In effect, the mother’s reluctance signals to the daughter that periods are a matter of embarrassment. And this can potentially lead to a cause-and-effect down the generations.
The only way to prevent this from happening is if mothers shed their inhibitions and take charge of their daughters’ physical and psychological well-being.
Be warm, frank and comforting
Every mother must ensure that her daughter has a smooth transition to puberty. This outcome requires her to talk to her daughter frankly and reassuringly about the role of menstruation in a woman’s life. The mother must explain what it signifies and why it is a biological fact and function rather than a stigma or curse.
This motherly introduction is a critical input in a young girl’s life; a mother’s easy and friendly attitude and the bond of love she shares with her daughter are dramatic tools for transforming a young girl into a confident, self-assured young adult.
On the other hand, if a mother has been stigmatised as a young girl, her resentment about periods is likely to be transmitted to her daughter. The mother’s differing socialisation patterns and cultural experiences due to the generation gap may be at odds with the need of the times.
But thankfully, this is not the complete picture. Many mothers, across cultures, also step out of their framework of biases instilled in them to empower their daughters.
For instance, a mother who is also a sportswoman desists from high-intensity aerobics during periods, opting for gentle stretches and yoga to message her daughter that having periods is all about adjusting the body’s rhythms; it does not call for a cessation of activities. A homemaker reiterates the normalcy of periods to her daughter as she tackles her routine with the same openness as before.
Both mothers are playing role models to their daughters to accept and integrate periods in their lives with dignity, calm, and pragmatism.
In the absence of guidance and support from the mother, primarily, adolescent girls can view puberty and the onset of periods negatively, leading to many consequences physically, emotionally, and socially. It prevents young girls from developing hygienic practices that can adversely impact their health.
Personal and social responsibility
This educative contribution by a mother is not just a personal action but also a significant component of social change. As more mothers fulfil this responsibility, they help eliminate the age-old burden of stigma. There is already a marked change in many societies as education, urbanisation, and cultural shifts encourage women to step off this shadow. But it is not enough. Every girl or woman on the planet must be freed from this burden of shame.
The root solution, therefore, is to broaden the discussion on the education of mothers. After all, it starts with their participation in their daughters’ lives.
Adult women must be encouraged to let go of their inculcated biases arising from the past. Studies have suggested that community outreach programmes, peer group support and guidance from health professionals go a long way in helping mothers move towards a better understanding of their role not just in their daughters’ lives but also in their own empowerment. The fact is, even for an adult woman, it is a liberating experience to shed the stigma of periods and lead a fear-free, decisive life.
The freedom of accepting periods as a blessing for a larger purpose is every woman’s birthright.
Let us all work to make this an incontestable reality.