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Integration of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) into global, national and local policies has been actively sought by various nodal agencies.
Menstruation is a designated normal physiological phenomenon of the female human body. However, over the past centuries, menstruation has been distorted as a subject which is socially and culturally discouraged to be talked about. Women and girls are demoralized and their concerns admonished at households or communities. This may be a form of age old patriarchal notion that has nicknamed menstruation as “whisper”, “aunt flow”, “code red” or “curse” instead of pronouncing it direct. As a social taboo, menstruation is treated as a subject of shame. There is an absolute lack of awareness about reproductive education in India.
A systematic review of 88 studies published in March 2016 proved that, not even half of the girls surveyed had any knowledge of menstruation cycle before the menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation). Women and girls during their menstrual flows are restricted from daily chores and made to follow strict dietary restrictions (touching or consuming pickles). They are socially isolated in separate “huts”.
Not only this, there is a peculiar insensitivity observed in men and boys regarding menstrual flow, which sharply indicates the lack of education about reproductive health at high school level.
In view of this unfortunate social evil, a Germany based non-profit organisation “WASH” initiated an annual awareness day about menstrual hygiene especially for the third world countries. May 28th is celebrated as menstrual hygiene day. The key point indicates 28 (day of May) calculated as 28 days of the cycle.
Girls’ and women’s choices of menstrual hygiene materials are often limited by the costs, availability and social norms in developing countries like India. Thus access to hygiene and sanitation products are the primary goals for betterment of women’s menstrual health.
Campaigns for change
Public campaigns to engage decision makers in policy, dialogue to not treat “menstrual health” as a taboo (social or religious) should be encouraged. A culture must be created to promote adequate education for women / girls by discussing via social media platforms and peer networks. Awareness on the Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cramps and effects must be developed.
Inadequate access to menstrual hygiene management products has made girls to stay home from school or work during their period every month. Not treating it to be a matter to whisper or a hateful periodic disease is necessary. Integration of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) into global, national and local policies has been actively sought by various nodal agencies.
In Odisha the festival of ‘Raja’ celebrates menstruation and womanhood. Every year for three days in the month of June, the state glorifies the status of women and menstruation. A lead taken by many celebrities through cinema is also playing a major role in spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene.
Positive changes in attitude
This year, amidst COVID-19 outbreak, Menstrual Hygiene Day has been celebrated through social media. Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani tweeted that “On #MHDay2020 let’s commit ourselves to educate not only girls but also boys that menstruation is not a matter of shame.” Affordable sanitary napkins have been made available through all Jan Aushadhi Kendras for millions of women.
#REDDOTCHALLENGE was initiated by UNICEF this year, where citizens were requested to post a picture of themselves with a RED DOT in their palms.
Rubina Bano, a 29 year old from a tribal-remote village of district Chhatarpur of Madhya Pradesh along with four other girls produced around 600 sanitary napkins under Samriddhi project supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This small scale setup is further run by young female members of tribal community termed as “hamsakhees”. This unit produces ultra-thin and biodegradable sanitary napkins that are sold at affordable prices to females across 335 villages through peer educators and adolescent girls.
A a fund raising campaign via instagram as “We Stand with Her” by 13-15 years old teenagers at Gurugram has been a motivation for one and all. The campaign was conceived for the migrant women who menstruate while travelling during lock-down. The motto says to “Uphold the dignity of the migrant women, who are walking back home with added discomfort. Support them with hygienic, sanitary necessities for their period.”
Despite international programmes and actions, more decisive action is required at grassroots level . Elderly women and members of family need to be educated about menstrual health, hygiene, diet like all other activities of the household. Camps, counselling can help spread awareness and create a change in attitudes towards menstrual health. This approach can be augmented for school children with their syllabus and through proactive approach by Anganwadi and ASHA workers. While webinars, seminars can be helpful in urban scenarios as a first point of contact health workers can work effectively towards betterment of menstrual health services.
“If the mothers of India are healthy, the future of India will come out healthy”.
Jointly authored by Dr. Radhika J. Sharma (Ph.D. Scholar, Dept. of Livestock Products Technology, GADVASU, Ludhiana) and Dr. Smruti Smita Mohapatra (Ph.D. Scholar, Dept. of Veterinary Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, WBUAFS, Kolkata).
Image source: Pexels
Veterinarian. Research scholar. Science Writer.
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