The Gujarat High Court has proposed to introduce a set of guidelines that prohibit the social exclusion of menstruating women from private, public, religious and educational places, Live Law reported on Tuesday. It sought a response from the state government and the Centre over the matter by the end of March.

“Menstruation has been stigmatised in our society,” a bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ilesh J Vora said. “This stigma has built up due to the traditional beliefs in impurity of menstruating women and our unwillingness to discuss it normally.”

The observations were made during the hearing of a plea filed in connection with an incident reported from the Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute in Bhuj town in February last year, where 68 girls were forced to remove their undergarments to prove they were not menstruating. The alleged harassment took place after the hostel warden complained to the principal that some of students were “violating religious norms”.

The plea, filed by one Nirjhari Mukul Sinha, sought the formation of a law to specifically deal with this kind of stigma attached to menstruation. It argued that the discrimination against women simply because they bleed once a month was violative of their fundamental rights.

During the hearing, the High Court court agreed with the views of the petitioner, observing that women are often subjected to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating.

“Not entering the ‘puja’ room is the major restriction among the urban girls whereas, not entering the kitchen is the main restriction among the rural girls during menstruation,” the court said. “Menstruating girls and women are also restricted from offering prayers and touching holy books.”

It said that such taboos impact a woman’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle and most importantly, her health. The court noted that 23% of girls in India drop out of school when they begin menstruating.

Additionally, “88% of women in India sometimes resort to using ashes, newspapers, dried leaves and husk sand to aid absorption,” the court said. “Poor protection and inadequate washing facilities may increase susceptibility to infection, with the odor of menstrual blood putting girls at risk of being stigmatized.”

The High Court also observed: “The challenge of addressing the socio-cultural taboos and beliefs in menstruation is further compounded by the fact the girls’ knowledge levels and understandings of puberty, menstruation, and reproductive health are very low.”

Besides, the “gender–unfriendly school culture and infrastructure” and the lack of adequate menstrual protection alternatives and, or clean, safe and private sanitation facilities for female teachers and girls undermine their right to privacy, the court said.

Based on these observations, the High Court proposed to issue a set of directions for the Gujarat government. Some of these are:

  • Prohibit social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status at public and private spaces.
  • Spread awareness among citizens and bust menstrual myths through various methods such as putting up posters at public places, including it in the school curriculum, using audiovisual mediums like radio, entertainment and news channels.
  • Empowerment of women by providing them access to education and increasing their role in decision making.
  • Sensitisation of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists and Anganwadi Workers regarding menstruation biology, so that they can further disseminate this knowledge in the community.
  • 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. 
  • Undertake surprise checks at institutes, create an appropriate mechanism and even impose an appropriate penalty against those who discriminate against women along these lines.