Female Puberty Rituals Around the World

Most cultures mark the rites of passage in life with special ceremonies, observations or events. The first of these is usually an event for the naming of the child, followed for girls usually by a rite marking the transition to adulthood.

Customs vary throughout Africa according to region, nation and tribe. Villages in Ghana separate girls for several weeks from the rest of the village once they have their first period. During this time, girls are instructed in sex education and social mores regarding courtship and nonromantic relationships with males. Then a village-wide ceremony and celebration takes place, presenting the adolescent girls to the community.

Rites have significance beyond just honoring or acknowledging the change in the girl's life. Some cultures use this as a chance to teach ethics and sexual morality to girls, or to choose a mate for the girl. A Brazilian tribe (Urubu-Kaapor) crops a girl's hair at her first menstruation and separates her from the village for fasting and education. She can't be married until her hair has grown back to shoulder-length, giving her time in the community to develop into an adult.

Native American tribes, such as the Navaho and the Apache, have their own puberty rites of passage for girls. The separation time for the girl experiencing her first period was as much to honor the transition to adulthood as it was to protect the village from the calamities superstitiously blamed on such an event.

Until the 20th century, Jewish males had a ceremony observing the transition to adulthood, but not girls. Now, Jewish females may participate in a bat mitzvah, which is a ceremony (and often a party) that occurs on a girl's 12th birthday. The status of adulthood and "bat mitzvah" (which translates to "daughter of the commandment") is conferred upon the 12th birthday with or without the celebration.

Though Islamic families and communities vary greatly in their cultural practices, the Quran instructs Muslims to forewarn their daughters at 9 years of age about the arrival of menstruation. Additionally, girls are taught that from that point on, they will be accountable to God for their actions. The Quran also instructs husbands and men to "keep away from women during menses" which has been interpreted in some cultures as not allowing menstruating girls and women to pray, fast or enter a mosque [source: Quran Today].