Breaking Taboos: Menstrual Hygiene Management in Rural India

India is mainly an agricultural-backed country, with still a major portion of it lying in the rural sector. Usually, in such places, the average income of the people is also low, and this leads to many misconceptions. One of the major misconceptions that are seen in rural India is mainly related to menstruation and its management. 

Even though many rural communities do celebrate the transition of a female, from a girl to a woman, the celebration is mainly due to her being eligible for marriage and reproduction. Behind the celebration, lies many untold taunting and taboos that affect the health of the women in the rural areas.

The Indian government has taken many steps, mainly spreading awareness about menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative among village people. However, a lack of proper education often renders such initiatives useless. For instance, the topic is kept secretive in such a manner that girls are often unaware of what is happening to them. As a result, their first experience is horrific.

Lack of awareness is one of the main factors why these instances happen. Studies even show that a huge number of young women, roughly around 63% of female students in rural areas drop out from school every year when menstruation starts. All these factors have given rise to many taboos that are present while discussing menstrual hygiene or hygiene in general.

Taboos associated with menstrual hygiene

Many crude practices are still followed in rural India when it comes to menstruation. Instead of focusing on period hygiene and helping the woman overcome the adversities, they are pushed further away. Some of the widescale practices include-

  • In villages of many states such as Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra, girls who start menstruating are sent to the village outskirts. As a result, women are more susceptible to fear, isolation, and danger.
  • Many elders in villages consider menstruation hygiene unnecessary, and it is a representation of how impure girls can be. As a result, menstruating girls are often barred from entering kitchens, temples, or even touching elderly people.
  • Another common myth in rural areas is the impurity of the menstruating woman is contagious. As a result, she isn't allowed to touch anything during her period. Even their husband and family members are deliberate to avoid touching a menstruating woman, as it will make them impure as well.
  • Other places believe that evil spirits reside in the body of women on their periods. As a result, children and young men of the village are not allowed to go near such women until the “evil spirit” has left her body.

Many such misconceptions lie in the Indian rural society. The traditional and religious belief systems are rooted so deeply that without proper education, it can be very hard to break such taboos.

The biggest downside of this, apart from its discriminatory nature, is it severely affects the woman’s life, as her menstruation hygiene is not at all maintained. The impact of such taboos on women's health is severe. As a result, upholding and promoting menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative are very important now, especially in rural India.

Effect on women’s hygiene

With many such taboos, girls in rural areas have been indirectly taught many practices that have directly affected their menstrual hygiene. Many such practices include forcing the girl to keep the entire experience of menstruation hidden from males. As a result, even buying sanitary napkins, which are an essential part of maintaining period hygiene, is considered taboo in many places.

Young girls are directly discouraged from using sanitary napkins, and this contributes adversely to the menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative taken by various governmental and NGOs. According to a survey conducted in 2016, the share of women who use sanitary napkins in Indian villages roughly comes to 48.5%. So, what alternatives do they use? Instead of napkins, most women use old clothing, either from pillow covers or saree leftovers while menstruating.

Along with the social customs, the relatively high cost of sanitary napkins, especially for people in rural areas, is also to blame here. There are no low-cost proper alternatives either, and the lack of education and discussion on this subject restricts the knowledge of clean absorbents from spreading as well.

Due to the “impure” nature of menstruation, some women are not even allowed to wash their clothes and dry them properly during their periods. It is no surprise that infections occurring on the reproductive tract and urinary tract are so common among rural women in India.

Not only is the period hygiene affected due to such practices, but the psychological health of the women also degrades during this period. This is mainly because of the discrimination and the subdued projections they feel during this period. The distress and shame often lead to low confidence, which affects their hygiene further.

Impact of menstrual hygiene on education

With such practices, menstruation hygiene is significantly not maintained in many parts of rural India. This not only affects their health but also affects their education as well.

  • Due to menstruation, young females in India miss roughly five to six days of school every month on average. This is solely due to the lack of infrastructure and education regarding maintaining menstrual hygiene.
  • Around one-fourth of the total female students drop out of school when they start menstruating, or after menarche.
  • Some rural schools also discourage and ban female students from entering the school premises during menstruation, due to the fear of staining “impurity” on clothes and school premises.
  • Since many rural schools provide midday meals, dropping out of schools for students belonging to poor or BPL families severely affects their nutrition intake as well.
  • With more gender gap, the chances of girls getting married at a younger age also increase significantly, which ultimately affects the economic independence of females in the country as well.

How does this affect the menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative?

The government of India has taken many steps, notably having the Ministry of Human Resource Development, to tackle the said purpose. Their menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative are addressing policies and issues that are keeping young women subjected to and discriminated against. At present, multiple programs and education initiatives are going on. The main purpose of the said programs is to educate young women and uneducated rural people regarding the facts and myths of menstruation.

Wrapping Up

Subsequently, infrastructure is also being provided to schools to provide a much better experience for young female students. It is safe to say that the situation in modern-day rural India has improved a lot in recent years. However, there is still much left to do.

With training rural school staff and teachers, more female students will be encouraged to maintain their menstruation hygiene properly. Also, the formation of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) groups in rural areas is going to help rural women maintain their hygiene during their periods, and thus, improve their overall health conditions.