By – Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, President & Founder, Wishes & Blessings
Menstruation is as natural as human life. It is inextricably linkedwith human dignity; when girls are not allowed to manage their periods with respect, it jeopardises their ability to exercise basic human rights. In our society, menstruation has long been stigmatised as vile and shameful. Most girls belonging to conservative and rural backgrounds are subject to discrimination and are not provided adequate access to reliable means of managing their periods. Menstruation is a reason for humiliation and deprivation for many marginalised menstruators due to gender inequity, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises, and detrimental customs.
Traditionally, bleeding girls are not allowed to even enter the kitchen and, in some areas, places considered holy. For instance, the Indian Supreme Court abolished a long-standing prohibition and now girls of menstrual age may now enter Hindu temples.
However, nobody has been able to enter the compound of the Sabarimala temple despite the assistance of the Kerala government and police.
Menstruating girls are forbidden from engaging in regular activities. They are expected to be purified before being allowed to resume their daily responsibilities. There are presumptions that certain odours that are prevalent on their bodies could contaminate the food they touch or prepare, while lacking any scientific backing. This unhealthy tradition serves as an example of how menstruation confronts serious concerns of gender inequality, hierarchies, communities, and power struggles in our community.
According to a survey by the National Family Health (2015-2016) it is estimated that roughly only 36 percent women have access to sanitary products. A 2019 research from the NGO Dasra noted that 23 million girls drop out of school each year as a result of inadequate menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include the accessibility of sanitary pads and information about menstruation.
Apart from the implied impurity associated with menses, there is a serious reality concerning the country’s subpar menstrual hygiene standards which accounts for 70% of the country’s reproductive problems. Add to that, the lack of adequate access to clean bathing facilities and effective menstrual hygiene management techniques makes it difficult to manage their periods in a dignified and socially acceptable manner. Till date, several households feel it is a waste of money to procure sanitary napkins. A majority of girls still rely on outdated, unhygienic methods like old fabric, ashes, newspapers, dried leaves, and husk sand as absorbents. This puts them at risk of illnesses and has severe long-term effects for their well-being, both mental and physical.
Several non-profit organisations have also been working on awareness about menstruation especially in rural areas. The Government of India has also initiated numerous programmes and projects with an emphasis on reproductive health, procurement and distribution of sanitary pads including eco-friendly and biodegradable ones, and encouraging knowledge of, access to, and use of safe menstruation practises.
This is just the beginning and a lot more needs to be done. Setting up manufacturing units for low-cost sanitary napkins which will also give employment to rural girls will be a double-edged sword for addressing the challenges associated with mensuration and unemployment. Sufficient washing and sanitation facilities, affordable and sustainable menstrual hygiene solutions should be made available publicly.
Menstruation is still considered a taboo subject, and many people still find ituncomfortable to discuss periods. One of the foremost steps to transformation would be sensitising and educating the public that bleeding is as natural as breathing. This can be done through advertisements featuring famous personalities, discussions, conducting menstrual management and hygiene-awareness seminars and work-shops. A lot of young girls miss school as they do not have access to pads and are unable to accept or successfully navigate compliance with menstrual practices. Shattering these very existing cultural taboos also depends a great deal on the educational status of girls. Therefore, the need of the hour is proper awareness about the same among them.
All these would be constructive measures in the right direction toward ensuring a change in ending period poverty and ignorance while generating employment. Moreover, as we can see that beyond a hygiene issue, it is a matter of women’s human rights. In the contemporary world where freedom and rights are becoming increasingly fought for, all women should have the liberty to be who they naturally are.