What is Menstrual Hygiene? How important is Menstrual Hygiene?

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Anshruta Poddar


Did you know? - A menstruator (person who menstruates/has periods) spends around 7 years of their lives menstruating.


[1] Most menstruators do not have access to bathrooms with running water, clean sanitary products, or dustbins for disposal. As a result, they often spend their menstruating days locked up in a room or in (menstruation) sheds away from their homes. Nearly 7 years of their lives are wasted in complete isolation with zero productivity. This is a pitifully sorry state of affairs. It is not only unfair to disadvantage such a large population for something completely natural and unavoidable, but also regressive and backward. Other than the mental impact this has on the menstruator, to think of the kind of impact this has on the economic growth of the nation is a whole new aspect of this issue that is rarely deliberated upon.

 

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) encompasses all the aspects of menstruation that are essential for menstruators to be aware of and have access to. It comprises of four key aspects-

 

  • Social
  • Knowledge
  • Facilities
  • Materials

 

Social support is the first step towards menstrual hygiene awareness and knowledge. It focuses on creating menstrual health frameworks that would enable the population at large to recognize and comprehend that menstruation should not be a cause for any sort of discrimination or ill-will towards the menstruator. For most menstruators, the onset of menstruation is accompanied by shame and disgust at oneself. Menstruators have typically been discriminated against not only by outsiders but even their family members who believe that menstruation makes one impure and unclean. Bringing about a change in this attitude is the first battle that needs to be fought to further the goal of menstrual awareness for all.

 

Knowledge is the key to helping menstruators understand that what they are going through is a completely natural and normal phenomenon that does not make them any less human. Unfortunately, 71% of adolescent girls in India are completely unaware of menstruation until they get their first period [2]. Such a grave lack of information can be detrimental not only to their mental health but also to their self-esteem and confidence. On seeing their first period they suffer from fear, panic, and confusion. This may have long-lasting ill-effects on their mental wellbeing and may trigger more serious side effects in a few such as depression and anxiety. It is the responsibility of the elders to explain and prepare their younger generations for what is coming their way by explaining the biological reason and purpose of menstruation. This will allow them to feel a sense of security in knowing that what they are going through is perfectly natural and healthy.


[1] Unicef.org

[2] Business Insider

A major limitation to menstrual hygiene comes in the form of a lack of adequate facilities and services for the menstruator. An accessible bathroom, a bin for safe disposal of sanitary wear, privacy for the menstruator while changing sanitary products as well as access to clean running water are essential elements of menstrual hygiene, none of which can be compromised. School and office-going menstruators should also have access to all of the above in their schools and workplaces to allow them to study/work through the days of menstruation. In India alone, an appalling 23 million young girls drop out of school each year when they reach menarche [2] due to a lack of facilities for them in their schools. This is completely unacceptable for a nation trying to progress and advance using the power of the youth.

 

Access to good sanitary materials ensures that menstruators do not suffer from any ailments purely due to the unavailability of clean and reliable sanitary products. These products include sanitary pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. Any of these are safe for usage as long as one knows that they have to be regularly changed and cleaned (in the case of menstrual cups). Women in rural India use materials like cloth, dust, ash, and even leaves as sanitary pads- either due to the lack of monetary resources or the lack of availability of sanitary products within their vicinity. One cannot stress enough the importance of using good sanitary products to avoid urinary tract infections, vaginal irritation, reproductive disorders, or other skin-related rashes and diseases.

 

In certain parts of rural India, it is commonplace for menstruators to shift to period huts called gaokors during the 5 days of their menstruation. These huts are built on the outskirts of their villages and are often close to the boundaries of forests. The huts are unhygienic, to say the least. The nearest source of water can be kilometers away from the huts and the proximity to the forest does not make the walk any easier. There have been several instances of menstruators dying as a result of snake bites while living in these huts. The unsanitary nature of these huts also causes menstruators a lot of physical discomforts and mental distress.

 

One might presume that the situation is far better in urban India. This, unfortunately, is a grossly wrong assumption. While it is true that people in urban India have better access to the facilities and materials aspect of menstrual hygiene management, they are still lacking in the social and knowledge aspect. Menstruators not being allowed to enter places of worship, or cook food in the kitchen is still very prevalent in urban India.

 

The widespread prevalence of orthodox practices and their resulting impact on the menstruators goes to show the dire situation surrounding the taboo of menstruation in the country and the desperate need to address menstrual hygiene awareness and propagation. Let’s give menstruation the dignity and respect that it deserves and let’s take a moment to applaud the millions of menstruators that have dealt with contempt and ridicule while menstruating. Menstrual hygiene management and awareness may be a long-drawn battle for India, but it is an imperative and necessary one.