Hello! My name is Monica Manmadkar, and I am a sophomore at Mission San Jose High School in
the San Francisco Bay Area. When living in such a diverse and accepting community, my bi-annual
trip to India was definitely a shocker. I was left flabbergasted at the amount of sexism that exists in
these misogynistic communities. Seeing this type of treatment of young girls gave me a sense of
responsibility in that I should shed light on the issue of girls worldwide not having adequate
information regarding their sexual health all due to the cultural taboos that they are surrounded by.
How do misogynistic communities affect adolescent girls going through puberty? In many countries,
pubescent girls do not know enough about their reproductive health. The lack of sex education leads
to a cultural taboo surrounding the topic of women’s health. This leads to higher rates of unplanned
pregnancies, illegal abortions, and a higher mortality rate.
As girls worldwide are transitioning into the womanhood, the onset of menstruation marks the
turning point in their lives. Although this is an experience shared by women, it is still stigmatized.
Unfortunately, many traditional cultures refuse to discuss menstruation, leading to a lack of
sufficient knowledge regarding it. Cultures around the world have also developed harmful ideas
surrounding menstruation. For example, many communities, especially ones with strict religions
such as those in India or the Middle East, associate menstruation with impurities and restrictions.
Due to this stigma surrounding personal hygiene and reproductive health, women all around the
world, especially in developing countries, know little about reproductive health and their bodies.
The major barriers for discussing sexual health are the socio-cultural norms that prohibit and
condemn any dialogue regarding it. This causes a culture of silence and shame to form, which only
perpetuates the patriarchal dominance in society. There are over 3000 research cases in India
addressing how sex is viewed as culturally inappropriate and disrespectful; this unfortunately leads to
inadequate knowledge about pregnancy. For example, a research report conducted in Mumbai
analyzed how inadequate knowledge affects the generations to come. The report found that many
girls received all the information regarding their personal hygiene from either their mother, other
female relatives, or school teachers, which is good, but there is an offset of the relay of information.
The information that is passed on through the generations is usually medically inaccurate and
support the historically stereotypical comments. The survey shows that many girls were unaware of
menstruation and later were not given sufficient information. Studies conducted in other parts of
Asia reveal similar patterns in young women’s sex education throughout the continent.
Due to this taboo, many women do not know how to fight against sexual harassment and rape,
which thus causes numerous unplanned pregnancies. As a result of the cultural barriers, there are
many women who feel unable to freely talk to their partners or other people about sexual consent
and the purpose of sex. Their lack of education causes them to not have enough information
regarding sexual intercourse and the contraceptives that are used. In a study in Delhi, India, many
women reported to have been quite frightened on their wedding night and did not know what to
expect. The statistics also show that many women had misconceptions regarding contraception,
which in turn caused many unplanned pregnancies. For all survey participants, the discussion
regarding sex and other sexual rights is considered disrespectful and culturally inappropriate. Buying
contraceptives or other needs for a woman, such as sanitary napkins, tampons, etc., is considered as
jeopardizing to the woman’s and the family’s honor.
Each year approximately 125 million women get pregnant, but worldwide about 40% of all pregnancies are unplanned, which means that there are 85 million unplanned pregnancies. (Hussain) Insufficient knowledge of contraception and deficient resources in developing countries cause the number of unplanned pregnancies to rise, putting the health of hundreds of women at risk. Since the risk of unplanned pregnancies is higher than planned ones, the number of maternal deaths also increase. Among the millions of pregnancies that are terminated each year, 60% are carried out under unsafe conditions. Each year, thousands of women in developing regions die or are injured due to unsafe, illicit abortions. Several of the abortions that are conducted in these low-income countries are considered to be unsafe. Furthermore, out of the 25 million unsafe abortions performed every year, the majority of are illegal due to strict abortion laws in many countries. The risk of dying from abortion drastically increases, which causes over 68,000 women a year to die. When they are illegal, the citizens turn to unhygienic methods of abortion. The effects of unintended pregnancies are serious and need to be addressed.
As a result of cultural taboos, many women worldwide, especially in developing countries, do not
have access to information about their sexual health and personal hygiene. In order to provide a
safe environment for the women, schools in third-world countries must place more emphasis on
sexual health education. As a part of the school curriculum, it should be mandatory for teachers to
educate the girls on personal hygiene, puberty, pregnancies, and abortions. The shame and silence
within the community already harms women and limits them to learning more about themselves,
therefore providing better education and understanding of menstruation was key to improving
health outcomes for women. These taboos exist globally and are especially prominent and relevant
in developing countries. A 2014 study by Femme International in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum
found that over 75% of girls had little idea what menstruation was before they got their first period,
causing them to feel scared, confused and embarrassed.
Whether it be mothers not telling their girls about the birds and bees of life, or girls feeling
uncomfortable to have the “talk”, these cultural taboos causes them to have a lack of knowledge,
leading to an increased amount of unplanned pregnancies and unsafe, illegal abortions. Believing
that everything is linked to education, schools around the world need to have a place where they can
educate the girls on puberty and on how menstruation is a natural process. Nations also need to
raise awareness about female health issues by supporting NGOs and other organizations, such as
Girl Up and WHO, whose main purpose is to help out these nations by providing funds to educate
females. This would result in the next generation of females having the knowledge they need to be
safe when they are ready to have sex and for starting a family. By teaching sexual health to girls at a
young age, we take a step forward in ensuring their safety in the future and ultimately, equality
between men and women.
Post written by guest writer Monica Manmadkar
Find more of Monica at her blog: http://daysofmylifebymgm.blogspot.com