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  Life   More Features  28 May 2019  Right to Health

Right to Health

Published : May 28, 2019, 12:25 am IST
Updated : May 28, 2019, 11:04 pm IST

Apart from communities where period is celebrated, 70 per cent of girls in India have not heard about menstruation prior to menarche.

While period parties are celebrated with much pomp and show, in many parts of India the society still ignores the menstrual hygiene.
 While period parties are celebrated with much pomp and show, in many parts of India the society still ignores the menstrual hygiene.

For 14-year-old Nisha, those four days are extremely difficult. She is not allowed to lead a normal life, where she could play, hang out with other boys and girls in her class, help her mother in domestic chores. She feels completely alienated and wishes she were not born a girl.

Nisha is not alone. There are scores of girls and women in India who go through similar apathy. While schools shy away from teaching about it, social circles close doors to the topic. This has led to unsafe and unhygienic practices. In fact, periods are painful for most girls, more so because of the taboo associated with it.

While period parties are celebrated amid much pomp and show in many parts of India, the society still ignores the hygiene related to it.

The United Nations has recognized menstrual hygiene as a global health issue that calls for rights.

A UNICEF report points out many girls do not have complete and accurate understanding of menstruation as a normal biological process. Educating girls before their first period -- and, importantly, boys -- on menstruation, builds their confidence, contributes to social solidarity and encourages healthy habits. Such information should be provided at home and at school.

Every month, millions of adolescent girls go through a cycle of pain, anxiety, and isolation during menstrual periods. In many cases women have less access to sanitary pads, tampons or menstrual cups hence they have to resort to old clothes, or other improvised materials like sand, ash, whole leaf to name a few obscurities.

Menstrual hygiene management can be particularly challenging for many in developing countries, where clean water and toilet facilities are often inadequate hence causing many health issues.

“The two main taboos are: one, discussing menstruation is anathema; and two, women’s bodies are impure or unclean when they menstruate. They are often prohibited from going into places of worship, from touching holy books, and from touching utensils or even pickles. Women are therefore unaware of menstruation hygiene.” says Dr Sadhana Kala, Apollo Cradle.

In addition, traditions have made it difficult to discuss about menstruation openly leaving many questions behind. During periods a lot of girls are forced to miss their school and are not allowed to enter the kitchen or temples.

Some are told not to be in contact with any male members, making it difficult for them to carry forward their daily chores.

A recent survey brought out some shocking facts. It is estimated that only 12 per cent of India’s 355 million menstruating women can afford to use sanitary protection.

It is believed that apart from the communities where it is celebrated, 70 per cent of girls in India have not heard about menstruation prior to menarche. In urban India, between 43 per cent and 88 per cent of adolescent girls use reusable clothes for their periods, and fail to clean them properly. For most girls, management of menstrual pain is a key concern, yet little sympathy or attention is given to those facing this regular pain or facing issues like inadequate menstrual flow, a blockage or blood clots.

“Improper menstrual hygiene can lead to infections in the genital area.

These can cause itching, redness, and foul smelling, curdy-yellow discharge. If not treated, the infection can go into upper genital track and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, severe pain and heavy bleeding during periods, and can form tubo-ovarian mass and cause infertility,” explains Dr Kala.

It is assumed that the risk of infection (including sexually transmitted infection) is higher than normal during menstruation because the blood coming out of the body creates a pathway for bacteria to travel back into the uterus making is a lot more dangerous if proper feminine hygiene is not taken care of. However rapid urbanization, growing middle class, increasing disposable incomes, rising awareness and growing number of working women are breaking all the myths and taboos.  Initiatives by the government, social sector and other private entities are helping increase awareness of personal hygiene in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

Many start-ups are now offering affordable and innovative products leading a revolution in diverse intimate hygiene solutions. It’s time to abolish the absurd silence and shame around this natural biological event.

Tags: menstrual hygiene, menstruation