Did you know periods are treated and dealt differently all around the world? We take a look at how location, religion, gender, race and financial status impact of periods globally.
The different attitudes around the world are really interesting. In the Cherokee Nation within the United States of America for example, women and people who are menstruating are considered sacred and powerful. On the other hand, there are cultures where menstruating is considered dirty.
We often hear stories of how different cultures manage periods - of girls needing to stay home from school, or women sleeping in a different room (or even a different house) while having their period.
Even in our western culture, periods and cycles are still taboo for many people, which can make it difficult for those who are having issues to seek a supportive hand. This also is worse for marginalised groups, depending on identifying gender, race, religion and financial status.
In Australia particularly, for many who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, particularly those living remotely in outback Australia, the conversation is complex. Facing extra challenges during menstruation, Compounded by overcrowding, access to affordable products and functioning bathrooms can make dealing with menstruation challenging.
While negative views are improving over time, we do still have a long way to go to reach those attitudes of the Cherokee people. More research and education are needed to reduce the taboo of menstruation in metropolitan areas, but more so in rural and remote Australia
Let’s take a look into cultures and their beliefs and practices around menstruating women and people. Some are celebrated and, in some cases, shunned.
It takes a lot to change the taboo around periods, but with countries like Scotland taking the charge in providing free period products to anyone who needs them, as well as schools around the world taking the step in providing products free of charge to students who need them, hopefully, these taboos start to change over the coming years.
The women of the Yurok tribe, a native American tribe from the Northwest coast of the United States saw their periods as a time to purify themselves, particularly the aristocratic women.
Their periods had synced up, as can happen with many living close together, and since they were on the same menstrual cycle, they performed a series of rituals during their cycle, leaving them with a heightened spiritual experience.
Known as ḥaiḍ (حيض menses), is unfortunately taboo and many households hold a negative view of a person who is ‘bleeding’. There are significant do’s and don’ts relating having periods. Many things are not considered valid, known as haram (forbidden) in some facets of the religion if completed by menstruating women, such as circumambulating the Ka’bah, reciting the Quaran out loud and making dhikr.
Interestingly, during Ramadan, those on their period are exempt from fasting according to the Hadith, which then needs to be made up for after menstruating. Atiya Aftab notes that “it is a hardship for a menstruating woman to abstain from food and water from dawn to dusk,” she says. “Hydration, nutrition, and possibly medication [is] needed.”
The Rungus people from Borneo have a refreshing view of their periods - it’s simply a bodily fluid that their body needs to evacuate. There’s no big deal made out of it, it’s not pure, it’s not taboo, it just is what needs to happen.
Laura R. W. Appell notes that the lack of a focus on menstruation in Rungus society might be associated with what I term ‘gender symmetry Rungus women occupy a position of high regard and share equivalent status with men. How good is that?!
The Ulithi people of the South Pacific still utilise menstruation huts, but it’s more of a community atmosphere. The huts are also used when breastfeeding and children also come along, making it more of a supportive environment than not.
There are Orthodox Jewish Laws, referred to as taharat hamishpachah, meaning ‘family purity. These laws forbid physical contact between men and women during their period and the following seven days. Previously, physical danger and disgust were used as mechanisms to keep compliance with these laws among the Jewish people.
Contemporary sources, however, view these laws as a blessing. Modern-Orthodoxy stresses “attention, affection, and companionship” between couples and It’s thought that following these laws will cause a husband to view his wife as an equal, as opposed to a sexual object (Steinberg, J. (1997). From a “pot of filth” to a “hedge of roses” (and back): Changing theorizations of menstruation in Judaism. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 13(2), 5-26.).
In some parts of Ghana, West Africa, young women are celebrated when they start their first periods. They sit under ceremonial umbrellas and are brought gifts and celebrated like royalty. In others, menstruation is a verbal taboo, where people who speak Akan use euphemisms when referring to periods.
The Beng women of the Ivory Coast are met with positivity from their male counterparts. They believe menstruation is like a flower on a tree. The flower needs to be there before the tree can fruit. It really is a lovely way of looking at a woman coming into fertility and the natural processes.
The Ojibwe women, indigenous women from communities scattered across America’s midwest region, isolate in what is known as a moon lodge. But this isn’t a place where they are left alone in bad conditions.
They use this time to cleanse and reset their energies. It’s a restorative period where they refrain from sex, ceremony and food preparation, and are given a break from childcare duties. Others in the tribe visit with meals to make sure the menstruating woman was safe and content.
This simple ritual had the ability to strengthen the relationships between the females in the community.
The Tikuna tribe in Brazil have an interesting way of treating girls when they get their first period - and you can see both the good and the bad side. When a young girl first gets their period she is sent to live in a house alone for one year. The only visitor is their grandmother.
During this time, their grandmother will teach them everything they need to know, including identifying medicinal plants and caring for their family. When the time is up, they are celebrated and “revealed” as a woman. The men of the tribe offer hunted animals to the family as a sign of respect.
France has been one of the countries leading the charge on talking about menstruation and negative stigma. Menstrual health is talked about in an open environment and it is a country where discussions around menstrual leave, reimbursement of period products, and free sanitary materials vending machines are happening.
In some South Indian communities, the Ritu Kala Samskara ceremony, Ritushuddhi, is performed when a girl or female-identifying person wears a sari for the first time. It is the celebration of their rite of passage after menarche (first menstruation) and is seen as a young woman both physically and spiritually.
Many have family or local traditions where some people have noted that it’s like a big birthday party or celebration.
Unfortunately, Afghan women living in Afghanistan have limited options available to them. A 2010 study of Afghan refugees found that 76.75 per cent of female refugees had a Reproductive Tract Infection.
It was concluded that such a high percentage was due to poor hygiene practise, with most using a washed old cloth or rag while bleeding, and a small number using an unwashed old cloth or nothing at all. Period products are expensive in Afghanistan which likely plays quite a role in how they are left to deal with their periods.
Although illegal since 2005, many Nepalese women are still kept out of the family home and living in a separate hut when menstruating due to being seen as impure. Chaupadi is a Hindu tradition still followed in small villages in western Nepal and is based upon the myth that Indra (the king of the gods) used menstruation as a means of bringing a curse upon the village.
It was found that while only 19 per cent of women across Nepal practised Chaupadi, in the mountainous regions in the mid-and far-west, it was more than 50 per cent practised it. As you can imagine, this puts them in a lot of danger, but it also results in young girls missing out on their education.
Explore our database of everyone working towards menstrual equality in Australia.
Within this article, we may use the terms she, her, woman, girl or daughter. We understand that not all people with uteruses who are assigned female at birth menstruate, and not everyone who menstruates identifies as a female, girl or woman. For more information on this, please see our article about the importance of gender inclusivity when discussing periods and menstruation.