The menstruation cycle is a major part of a female’s life. But cultural and religious taboos are still widespread. A myriad of myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes ostracize girls and women from society. People associate periods with impurity and disgust. Even the menstrual issues and problems are swept under the carpet.
Before moving forward, let’s address the main question. What is Menstrual hygiene?
Menstrual hygiene includes basic things. Using a clean material to absorb or collect blood. It can be a sanitary napkin, tampon, or a menstrual cup. Secondly, access to facilities such as clean water, soap and a toilet. You should know how to dispose of the used material properly. Last, you must have knowledge about the menstrual cycle. So, you can seek help if any menstraul irregularity occurs.
Lack of period education and awareness, dearth of basic facilities, and poverty act as a barrier to women’s menstrual hygiene. There are 40 crore menstruating women and girls in India, but across the country women still face difficulties in managing menstrual hygiene. According to Spot On, 71% of girls do not have any prior menstrual knowledge until menarche. (Menarche is the first menstrual bleeding in a girl’s life). 70% of the women’s population cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins, 15,000 schools have no toilets, and there are unhygienic toilets at the workplace. All these facts portray a harrowing picture of women’s present and future growth.
Lack of Menstrual education and awareness
Most adolescent girls are unaware of menstruation when they first bleed. Social and Cultural taboos debar them from social gatherings. They are shunned from taking part in daily activities like cooking, touching pickles, playing with friends, or entering a temple, etc. They do not know how to react. They experience shame, frustration, agony, and horror. They are conditioned at a young age not to mention anything about menstruation publically. Therefore, they do not talk about their problems. Period irregularities, heavy bleeding, changes in bleeding, and many other problems go unreported. This affects their reproductive health. Lack of formal education about the physiology of periods results in girls resorting to unhygienic period practices.
Lack of Sanitary Material
Atleast 70% of women don’t use sanitary napkins. Instead, they use old fabric, rags, hay, sand, ash, or newspaper when they bleed. This results in reproductive tract infection. Women do not demand sanitary napkins in villages. One of the key reasons is affordability. Sanitary napkins are usually expensive. If you have more than one female, then it put a big hole in your pocket.
So, women use alternatives. However, cloth is a great environment-friendly sanitary option. But it must be washed and dried properly.
Lack of basic facilities
A joint monitoring programme by WHO and UNICEF on water, sanitation, and hygiene, released a report on 1st July 2021. It says atleast 15% of India’s population defecates in the open. It seems to be a small percentage, but in numbers, it is 2,09,240,818. More than 20 crore people defecate in the open. Girls and women have to wait until morning or evening to go to the fields. There is a risk of physical abuse. No proper accessibility of water for cleaning. They wash their private parts with contaminated water leading to reproductive tract infection. It is 2021, still, parents do not send their girls to school during periods as 15,000 government schools have no toilets. 23% of girls drop out of school every year when they start bleeding. After household work, menstruation is the second major reason for girls dropping out of schools. There is a large force of women employed in the informal sector. They do not get access to clean toilets, most of the public toilets are not working or in dilapidated condition. This results in unhygienic management of periods. Poor menstrual hygiene impacts health, education, and work.
What can we do as a community to increase Menstrual Hygiene?
- Educate everyone
This will debunk the myths and misconceptions about menstruation. Discuss freely about periods and issues related to it. Most importantly, educate mothers. A well-informed mother is more likely to teach her daughter hygienic practices. Create an enabling environment in school. Educate all students about the concept of menstruation whether they are boys or girls.Tell girls how to use sanitary products and discard them properly, and clean their private parts. Stop period shaming and stigmatizing women.
- Promote affordable and eco-friendly pads
We must start buying local sanitary napkins as they are cheap. Today many companies are making cotton, bamboo, and sugarcane-based sanitary napkins. We must start using these biodegradable products as they are environment-friendly and affordable.
- Encourage people to use toilets
Defecation in public is one of the leading causes of urinary infection. It pollutes the environment also. Therefore, people must use clean toilets and practice hygiene.
- Promoting health-seeking behavior
90% of females shy away from consulting a doctor for their menstrual problems. Encourage women to consult gynecologists, rather than dealing with the menstrual problems on their own.
Only when girls and women live a life of dignity and health, we can change our attitude, and by doing so we can change their lives and progress as a society. Menstruation is not a women’s issue but a society’s matter.
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