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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Taboos and Myths Associated with Womens Health among Rural and Urban Adolescent Girls in Punjab

Author(s): S. Puri, S. Kapoor

Vol. 31, No. 4 (2006-10 - 2006-12)

Puri, S. Kapoor

Introduction

For designing an effective health education programme for any community it is essential to honour the cultural milieu of the beneficiaries. Study was done to study the practices of myths concerning menstruation and knowledge of diet taboos practiced in society during pregnancy and lactation.

Material and Methods

Overall, 5000, school / college going adolescent girls (2500 urban and 2500 rural) of Patiala, Punjab aged 10-19 years were interviewed. First, Patiala district was divided in four zones. A list of schools and colleges in this district was obtained beforehand. From each zone two schools were randomly chosen. In addition two colleges were randomly selected from the district. From each school and college 250 girls studying from 8th to 12th standards and BA / BSc 1st year were chosen. From each class one section was chosen at random and all students were included in the study.

After explaining clearly the purpose of study, the chosen cross section of the girls were given a pretested self administered questionnaire. Both government and private schools were covered. Consent of the girls was taken and total secrecy of their information was ensured. Before doing study in any school or college, permission was taken from the principal. For the convenience of the girls the questionnaires were provided to them in different languages in the free periods. They were advised not to write their names or make any identification mark on the forms. The questionnaire had items regarding myths and taboos linked to menstruation pregnancy and lactation. It was statistically analysed using simple proportions and percentages.

Results

Table 1 shows that various myths and taboos pertaining to menstruation were almost equally prevalent among girls in both urban and rural areas The most common practice observed in urban girls was not to enter pooja room 1038 (41.52%) whereas in rural girls it was not to go to kitchen 1001 (40.04%). Not to attend to visitors during menstruation was reported in 144 (5.76%) urban and 186 (7.44%) rural girls. Seventy eight (3.12%) urban and 42 (1.68%) rural girls avoided exertion during menstruation. Other practices like not to wear new clothes, to touch holy books, to touch people or to look in mirror were found in 175 (7.00%) urban and 229 (9.16%) rural girls.

Table I: Taboos Observed During Menstruation by Adolescent Girls

Activities forbidden Urban
(n=2500)
Rural
(n=2500)
  No. % No. %
Pooja room entry 1038 41.5 840 33.6
Entry to kitchen 618 24.7 1001 40.0
Attend to visitors 144 5.7 186 7.4
Exertion 78 3.1 42 1.6
Others (wearing new cloths,
touching holy books or people,
touching pickle, looking in mirror)
175 7.0 229 9.1
No activities forbidden 155 6.2 0 -
* Rest did not respond

Table II: Knowledge In Adolescent Girls of Myths and Diet Taboos Practiced In The Study Area During Pregnancy and Lactation

Food Items Restricted
in Pregnancy
Urban Girls*
(n=2500)
Rural Girls*
(n=2500)
No. % No. %
Meat 822 32.8 1136 45.4
Cold Milk 1487 59.4 1228 49.1
Guava 378 15.1 381 15.2
Papaya 392 15.6 413 16.5
Egg 716 28.6 1097 43.8
Fish 920 36.8 1128 45.1
No Knowledge 1272 50.8 1023 40.9
Food Items Restricted in Lactation
Guava 382 15.2 591 23.6
Cold fluids 1185 47.4 1422 56.8
Fats 1190 47.6 455 18.2
No Knowledge 1253 50.1 984 39.3
*Multiple responses were also there

Many (822; 32.88%) urban girls were aware of the prevalent myth in the study area that non-vegetarian diet should not be taken during pregnancy because of religious reasons; 1487 (59.48%) urban and 1228 (49.12%) rural girls opined that cold milk may do some harm to the foetus. Some (15.68%) urban and 16.52% rural girls told that taking papaya was a taboo for pregnant women as it might lead to abortion; 1272 (50.88%) of urban and 1023 (40.92%) of rural girls were not aware of any diet taboos observed in pregnancy.

Half (50.12%) of urban and 39.36% rural, girls were not aware of various diet taboos during lactation. The main diet taboo was not to take guava as told by 15.28% urban and 56.88% rural girls. Avoidance of fats was advocated during lactation by 47.60% urban and 18.20% rural girls (Table 2).

Discussion

Adolescent girls imbibe a lot of myths, taboos and various practices related to menstruation, pregnancy and lactation, through their female relatives, neighbours and friends. This shapes the outlook toward these important events / phases of their lives. In India, menstruation blood is considered as dirty and polluting3. This concept is responsible for related taboos. This has been acknowledged in various studies that many menstruation related taboos are prevalent1,2,4. Our study reflects some of such practices in Punjab, as reported by urban and rural adolescent girls. Many restrictions during menstruation were told by them. Ban on entry in kitchen was reported more in rural areas, while some girls in urban area told that no restrictions were imposed on them. This reflects that there was some evidence of breaking of such age-old taboos in urban area. Similarly, our study brought out many diet related taboos during pregnancy and lactation. In Indian system of medicine (Ayurveda), a lot of emphasis is given on the relation between diet and health. Strong beliefs on ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ concepts pertaining to diet are there5,6. Conventionally ‘hot’ food items are avoided during pregnancy as it is thought that it will cause abortion eg. nonvegetarian and papaya . Similarly ‘cold’ foods are avoided during lactation as it is might affect the quality and quality of milk production3. Taboos for non-vegetarian foods were reported more by rural respondents in our study.

However, there is a need for scientific evaluation of these taboos and myths. This information may also be used for devising IEC strategies for North Indian adolescent girls.

References

  1. Wilson CA, Turner CW and Reye WR: Superstitions of menstruation: Journal of Adolescent Health: 1991;12:130.
  2. Desai P, Hazara M, Hegde K: Adolescent’s menstrual pattern: Journal of Obstertrics and Gynaecology of India: 1990; 40: 270-4.
  3. Mukhi S: Problems in Adolescent’s Sexuality: Family Planning Prespective: 1990;21:52-64.
  4. Singh AJ: Women’s illnesses – The Indian male perspective, a search for linkage with Vedic concept of Health and Hindu mythology: Bull. Ind. Hist. Med. 2001;31:39-56.
  5. Bhargava DN: Veda Vidya Praveshika; Veda Swadhyay Mandal;Jodhpur 1999
  6. Wise T.A: The Hindu System Of Medicine, Mittal Publications,Delhi: 1986

Department of Community Medicine, Govt. Medical College, Chandigarh-160047.
Email: [email protected]
Received: 1.4.05

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