In an order that could bust the stigma around the menstrual cycle, which continues to lead to exclusion and discrimination of women in society, the Gujarat High Court has offered guidelines to the state government to break the taboo around menstrual health for women and girls that persists in many parts of the country. The court also directed to undertake concrete action to end this discrimination at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational.
The court specified that all religions (excluding Sikhism) refer to a menstruating woman as “ritually unclean” and asked the government in the state to concrete steps to break this taboo and create awareness to bust the myths that surround menstruation in society.
Proposing to prohibit the social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status, the two-judge bench of Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh J Vora issued a nine-point guideline to the state government in which it asked the latter to spread awareness among various strata of citizens, including health workers, adolescents, parents and other such stakeholders, regarding the social exclusion of women based on their menstrual status.
The HC proposed that this awareness can be created through various mediums like putting up posters at public places, including it in the school curriculum, using audiovisual mediums like radio, entertainment or news channels, short films etc.
Observing that “such taboos about menstruation present in many societies impact on girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly”, the court asked the govt to devise strategies to educate and create awareness among the adolescent girls related to menstrual health and hygiene.
The Gujarat High Court also proposed for sensitization of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi Workers pertaining to the biological process involved in menstruation biology. The court said that this would help them to “further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilize social support against busting menstruation-related myths.”
“The State Government should prohibit all educational institutions, hostels and living spaces for women-studying working and others, private or public, by whatever name called, from following social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in any manner…The State Government should undertake surprise checks, create an appropriate mechanism and to take such other actions, steps as may be necessary to ensure its compliance including the imposition of an appropriate penalty against the erring institution,” the HC noted.
The bench headed by Justice J B Pardiwala also asked the state government to allocate necessary funds for the implementation of the directions.
The plea before the Gujarat High court
The court made these observations while hearing a PIL filed by Nirjhari Mukul Sinha seeking direction for a law to specifically deal with the exclusionary practice against women on the basis of their menstrual status.
The petition was filed in the aftermath of an incident that occurred in the month of February where 68 girls in a hostel of Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute in Bhuj town of Kutch were paraded through the college into the restroom and forced to remove their undergarments to prove that they were not menstruating.
The bench issued notice to the state and union governments as well as Sahajanand Girls Institute and Nar Narayan Dev Sansthan in Ahmedabad (the Swaminarayan sect of Bhuj that runs the college). The bench has also sought the opinion of the state and central government on the court’s proposed set of guidelines asking both to respond by March 30.