Menstruation — a natural process that is required for the continued existence of our species — is often considered to be a bad thing. Cultural taboos about periods are deeply ingrained, and many religions have rules limiting women's actions during that time of the month. Hinduism, for instance, forbids women from touching other people, talking loudly or entering temples — and it's that last part that's recently inspired an angry social media movement.
Over the past week, a growing number of Indian women have taken to social media with images indicating that they are #HappyToBleed as part of a campaign against pervasive period stigma.
The campaign was launched in response to comments from Prayar Gopalakrishnan, a Hindu religious leader who recently defended the practice of barring all women of reproductive age from entering the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala, India.
According to the BBC, Gopalakrishnan recently told reporters there might come a day when women are welcome in the temple, but first, someone must develop special technology to determine if she is bleeding from her vagina, as menstruation is considered impure and unclean in Hindu culture. So basically, in Gopalakrishnan's ideal world, religious women would be subject to airport security-style millimeter wave scanners, but for periods.
"These days there are machines that can scan bodies and check for weapons," Gopalakrishnan said at a press conference. "There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the 'right time' for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside."
But Nikita Azad, the college student who founded the #HappyToBleed campaign, isn't willing to wait around for some hypothetical menstruation-detecting machine that reinforces the belief that periods are shameful and gross.
As Azad wrote on the campaign Facebook page, the hashtag is meant to fight cultural menstrual stigma, both in India and around the world.
"[Gopalakrishnan] has reinforced misogyny and strengthened myths that revolve around menstruation," Azad wrote. "Although this has become the immediate reason [for] our campaign, our focus is identifying all forms of patriarchy and preparing ourselves for struggle."
The campaign has already received widespread and enthusiastic support, with hundreds of women posting photos of themselves holding up signs (written on paper or, in some cases, menstrual pads) indicating they are "happy to bleed."
It's an especially powerful message in India, where menstruation isn't just considered shameful, but also can pose enormous health risks. An estimated 66% of Indian schools don't have functioning toilets, which has prompted many schoolgirls to miss class during their periods. According to the Atlantic, some Indian girls and women have taken to using "paper, sand, ash or even leaves during their periods," which doctors warn can lead to cervical cancer and various infections.
"This is a campaign against menstrual taboos that prevail in our society," Azad wrote. "It acknowledges menstruation as a natural activity which doesn't need curtains to hide behind."