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Damp Underwear - Part of bigger pedagogy of ‘Underwear Shaming’ in Indian society?

Recently, with the rising consciousness about menstrual health and hygiene for women, we have all come across the term – Period Shaming. But have we ever heard about Underwear-Shaming and its consequences?

Across the country, whether in the urban, semi-urban or rural context, having women’s under-garments on the show is seen as a distasteful act and justifies as a source of shame. If young girls start hanging their underwear or bras to dry outdoors in the open balconies, mothers can be seen covering them up with other clothes to avoid them being seen. The situation is worse for brides, who seem to not have any place in the house except their personal bathrooms to dry the washed and wet underwear. However, what is surprising is that shame is only associated with women’s under-garments whereas men are free to showcase their collection of boxers and briefs openly in their homes without any disgrace attached. So why is underwear shaming for women so normalized in the Indian society and where does this behavior draw its roots from?

Some researchers suggest that the stigma around female menstruation as well as female sexuality are key factors associated with the shame around undergarments.

Unfortunately, under the patriarchal structures of Indian society, men continue to observe women as sexual objects and women’s underwear or lingerie (as it is more commonly called) enhance or symbolize this sexuality. We often see women’s underwear advertisements revolving around their appeal in the bedroom, but not for once try to focus on the benefits of underwear to support women in their menstruation and personal hygiene. Unfortunately, these viewpoints are carried forward from generation to generation.

Further, we all know that Indians view menstruation as a process of pollution and impurity. A lack of knowledge of feminine hygiene is a major deterrent in the seamless availability of feminine hygiene products such as sanitary pads and good quality underwear. This is a direct result of the stigma associated with periods. However, women are at the receiving end and face an even worse outcome – the proliferation of harmful diseases.

Bacteria require moisture to grow and if underwear is not dried properly in unobstructed sunlight which sterilizes them or a strong dryer, the microorganisms get a chance to grow and may cause different types of diseases such as ringworm infection, urinary tract infection and pubic skin diseases. Damp underwear when in direct contact with the genitals can cause major issues apart from discomfort and the sensitive skin around the female genitals is prone to damage. Further, exposure of the potentially bacteria-harboring underwear to the genitals can allow for a number of infections to enter the body. The situation is worse in rural India where there is a lack of access to water, proper washing products and equipment.

Thus, the consequences of an abnormal and unnatural stigma are many. The only way to step out of this practice is to improve knowledge about feminine hygiene and its importance in menstrual and reproductive health.

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