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Menstrual Health And Hygiene Awareness In India

Posted: July 17, 2019

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Background

Menstruation is considered as a taboo and the blood which is responsible for the birth of newer generation is treated as ‘impure’ due to several misconceptions pertaining to this natural process. There are many organisations working towards creating awareness and changing mindsets of people so that people openly discuss about menstruation without any hesitation. Poor management of menstruation affects lives of girls and women globally and many girls drop out from schools due to lack of proper sanitary facilities in schools (Mirror,2018).

Even teachers teaching natural sciences, especially subjects like Biology are skipping chapters related to sexual and reproductive health as they do not have proper vocabulary to disseminate proper knowledge and this also reflects inter-generational communication gap. Ministry of Education Report (2015) established the relevance of this fact by stating that in 63% of schools located in rural areas, teachers refrained from discussing menstrual health and hygiene. Mothers are also hesitant to talk about menstruation with their daughters due to stigmatization of menstrual process. Therefore, it is necessary to reflect on India’s menstrual health and hygiene awareness as in India because women/girls are still not completely aware about their bodies and they still are unable to embrace their bodies completely.

Status of Menstrual Health and Hygiene Awareness in India

UNFPA suggests that if a person is willing to maintain his/her sexual and reproductive health then, he/she should have access to adequate and accurate information. Thus, UNFPA ensures to disseminate accurate knowledge on menstruation to adolescent girls through its collaborative  UNFPA-UNICEF  Global Programme to Accelerate an End to Child Marriage. UNFPA(2019) reports that menstruation restricts mobility and leads to diminishing of opportunities for women/girls. In some places, menstruation is considered as a signal for marriage or engaging in a sexual activity which consequently leads to child-marriage and sexual violence.

Dasra Report (2014) stated that around 71% adolescent girls in India are not aware about periods till menarche (First period) and around 23 million girls drop out from schools after reaching puberty due to lack of proper sanitary facility and 70% mothers of menstruating daughters considered periods as dirty. Poor menstrual hygiene might lead to several diseases and infections. Surveys conducted by Ministry of Health revealed that 120 million Indian adolescents suffer due to irregular periods and heavy bleeding during periods and nearly 60,000 cases of cervical cancer deaths are reported in India and out of these, two-third deaths are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.

Lack of Sanitary Facilities in Public Spaces

Lack of proper sanitary facilities in public areas also hampers mobility of girls/women. According to a survey conducted by Sachhi Saheli, a Delhi-based NGO, none of the metro stations in Delhi had pad-vending machines or stores which kept sanitary napkins. The survey also revealed that tissue papers and soaps were not available in more than 18 metro stations. Lack of awareness is not the only issue. It is also about lack of policy frameworks for developing these WASH structures. Due to efforts of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Sachhi Saheli, pink toilets have been built in Delhi but these smart toilets need to installed at every public place so that women and adolescent girls are able to participate actively in day-to-day activities.

Period Management Techniques

Period management is one of the important aspects which is being ignored for a long time. Thus, some women/girls still believe that tampons and menstrual cups might break their hymen and they would not be considered as a perfect marriage material. Social institutions like, family and marriage have demeaned women’s bodies to such an extent that most women do not realize that they need to change according to time and some women still believe that menstruation is a curse.

Over 77% of menstruating girls and women in India use an old cloth, which is often reused and 88% girls and women use other substances like, ashes, newspapers, dried leaves, etc. for absorption which might affect their health adversely ( Garg & Anand, 2015). Therefore, it is important to educate both men and women of every household so that women are able to manage and discuss about their periods without being ashamed or harassed. Proper knowledge of periods would lead to no shame and open discussions which would affect women’s physical and mental health positively as they have mentioned that periods leads to a lot of mental torture and harassment which could lead to excessive anxiety.

Recommendations/Suggestions

  1. Community based awareness programmes would not only lead to proper dissemination of knowledge but it would also lead to discussion on menstrual issues which could create a positive impact while changing mindsets.
  2. Conducting workshops in schools would help teachers and students to gain sufficient and accurate information about their bodies without feeling embarrassed about being a girl as adolescent girls get insecure about their periods as they feel that it is dirty.
  3. Education is the tool which can help women to collectivise their voices against various cultural taboos and stigma attached with this natural process. Education will help women to become change-agents while they participate in decision-making processes.
  4.  Legislators should make laws or policies by keeping women in centre. Mostly, policies are not based on equity. Therefore, legislators must create a provision of sanitary napkins and incinerators in schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It is also essential to cover environmental aspects too while considering of disposal of used pads.
  5. Pad vending machines should be installed in colleges, schools, and other public spaces and availability, accessibility and affordability of pads must be ensured.
  6. Sensitization is an equally important process. Therefore, only creating awareness might not lead to change in behavioural changes. Sensitization takes a long time and it gradually changes mindsets of people. ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, Sanitation workers, public health sector workers must be sensitized so that they could spread awareness at grassroot levels.
  7. Organisations like, Sachhi Saheli organise Period Fest so as to involve school students and adults from various spheres of lives to shed off their restrictive mindsets to celebrate periods and know various aspects of menstrual health and hygiene in a creative way. There are period centric games which help in busting myths related to periods along with cultural performances and PAD-Yatra. Such creative and innovative ideas can influence a larger audience.
  8. There is a concept actualized by Sachhi Saheli and named as 5P Pouch which  could be considered as one of the effective ways of managing periods. This pouch contains, a paper soap, a paper bag, newspaper, panty and a pad. These pouches can be treated as an emergency pouch which can be conveniently used.
  9. It is also important to aware men/boys on menstruation so they could also help in disseminating accurate information to their sisters/mothers and share workload at homes while they are menstruating.

Menstruation is a natural process but stereotypes around menstruation underestimates  woman’s power to reproduce and often, their abilities are questioned when they are on periods. Therefore, it’s high time to make women and adolescent girls aware of their strength and power of menstruation as a process.

References

Miiro, G. (2018). Menstrual health and school absenteeism among adolescent girls in Uganda (MENISCUS): A feasibility study. BMC Women’s Health. Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12905-017-0502-z.

Menstruation is not a girls’ or women’s issue – it’s a human rights issue. (2019, May 28). Retrieved June 6, 2019, From https://www.unfpa.org/news/menstruation-not-girls-or-womens-issue-–-its-human-rights-issue

Dutta, S. (2018, May 28). 23 Million Women Drop Out Of School Every Year When They Start Menstruating In India (S. Bhaskar, Ed.). NDTV. Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://swachhindia.ndtv.com/23-million-women-drop-out-of-school-every-year-when-they-start-menstruating-in-india-17838/

Garg, S., & Anand, T. (2015). Menstruation related myths in India: Strategies for combating it. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care,4(2). Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4408698/.

Dasra (2015, March). Spot On!: Improving Menstrual Management in India. Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://www.dasra.org/resource/improving-menstrual-health-and-hygiene

Sachhi Saheli, the NGO bringing menstrual awareness to Delhi’s government schools. (2017, February 20). Your Story. Retrieved June 6, 2019, from https://yourstory.com/2017/02/sacchi-saheli

I pursued my post graduation in Women's Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences,

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