How is the lack of menstrual hygiene, awareness and sanitation facilities affecting education?
With only a small chunk of the menstruating population using sanitary products, an appalling number is still using materials like cloth, dust, leaves, ashes, etc. A shocking statistic shows that out of a total of (approximately) 40 crore menstruating women in India, less than 20% use sanitary pads . With such unreliable products being used as a means to soak menstrual blood, menstruators have to stay within the confines of their homes, because by stepping out, they run the risk of staining. Menstruators using cloth, tend to wash and reuse the same piece of cloth throughout their cycle. This is not just unsanitary, but also disease and infection inducing.
Use of such unhygienic means of menstruation has a direct bearing on female teacher absenteeism in schools for 5-6 days each month. To think of the kind of impact this has on a student’s education, is abysmal. Around 23 million girls in India drop out of school every year due to a lack of menstrual hygiene management facilities . Given that menstruation is a perfectly healthy, natural, and normal phenomenon, the lack of adequate facilities and sanitation in schools is shameful. When this results in menstruators having to quit their schools at a very young age, it is upsetting as well as infuriating to say the least. Nobody deserves to be pulled out of school at such a tender and impressionable age. Also, the kind of impact that this can have on the psyche and mental health of the child is unthinkable. To add to the trauma, menstruators have to helplessly watch their male counterparts continue their schooling without any restrictions.
The state of sanitation facilities in remote parts of the country is pitiful. Schools often lack the basic facilities that would be a requisite for a menstruating individual. As a result, menstruators wanting to attend school, cannot do so simply due to a lack of bathrooms and disposal bins. For a dignified menstrual experience, menstruators must have access to the following-
- A bathroom where they can change their sanitary wear in a private space.
- Running water and soap
- Disposal bins for clean and hygienic disposal of sanitary products.
Other than the physical facilities, schools must conduct teacher training programs, wherein the teachers are educated in this subject and are in turn asked to educate and sensitize their students as well. Several schools are still prey to the fact that their teachers themselves are uncomfortable discussing menstruation with their students. School management authorities need to take the onus to bring about a change in this mentality and work towards providing their teachers with better information. Once teachers set the tone by talking about menstruation openly and freely, this would trickle down to the student level and encourage meaningful and healthy discussion on the matter.
Menstruators themselves may be caught unaware until they actually have their first period. (71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they get it themselves. ) This throws light on the fact that mothers often do not address the subject of menstruation. Most menstruators feel that something extremely unnatural and disgraceful is taking place within their bodies when they first hit menarche. This embarrassment prevents them from talking about what they are going through with anyone around them.
When the male counterparts are well-aware and sensitized towards menstruation, it makes the experience more endurable and dignified for the menstruators. Unaware students often tend to hurt the sentiments of their counterparts by either joking about the subject or asking uncomfortable questions due to their genuine lack of information. A large chunk of menstruators simply drop-out of school due to the shame and embarrassment of having to answer questions or the fear of staining their clothes.
Education forms the building blocks of a child’s future, and to compromise this solely due to an administrative lack of facilities and sanitation is unacceptable. Ujaas, an initiative of the Aditya Birla Education Trust, is working towards improved awareness and distribution of sanitary products to allow menstruators to attend school care-free and stain-free! Ujaas conducts seminars and workshops as well as engages in distribution of affordable sanitary napkins in remote pockets of the country. The work being done by team Ujaas will go a long way in furthering the goal of ‘education for all’.
 Business Insider- Adoption of sanitary napkins is less than 20% in India, whereas adoption of cosmetics like lipstick is significantly higher at 65%: Chetna Soni, P&G | Business Insider India