What are the ways to maintain Menstrual Hygiene? How are the NGOs helping in spreading awareness in the rural areas?

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Anshruta Poddar

While maintaining good menstrual hygiene may come naturally to menstruators who have had the good fortune of being educated about the same, it may come as a surprise to note that less than 20% of the menstruating population of the nation, actually use sanitary products while on their period [1]. Such a dismal state of affairs can be attributed to several factors such as the lack of awareness on the part of the menstruator, the taboo surrounding menstruation, as well as the lack of access to sanitary products.

To tackle this issue, a two-fold approach would have to be used. First, creating awareness about the need and importance of menstrual hygiene, and second, creating a better infrastructure to allow for menstruators to have access to bathrooms and sanitary products.

Creating awareness, although seemingly pretty straightforward, is certainly not so. The orthodox mentality of a large chunk of the population makes the stigma surrounding menstruation so pervasive and deeply entrenched that to break-through this barrier itself may take years to come. The resistance to openly talk about menstruation is the root cause of menstruators not having adequate facilities and resources since they are unable to freely discuss and ask for their menstrual requirements and rights. In remote parts of our country, menstruators are made to believe that while menstruating they are impure and cursed, and as a result, they cannot be living in the same house as the other family members, or be touched by any male member. They are expected to live in unsanitary ‘period huts’ for the duration of their menstruation and must follow several restrictions during this time.

NGOs that have studied the plight of these menstruators have tried to help them by improving the conditions of these period huts, also known as ‘gaokors’. They have worked towards improving the living conditions by installing bathrooms with running water, fitting solar panels for electricity, and creating boundary walls to prevent animals from the nearby forests from entering.

Other than the awareness required to quash the taboo surrounding menstruation, the imperative awareness comes in the form of educating menstruators regarding the availability of sanitary products. In most cases, they are completely unaware that such products exist and they are essential to use for good health and hygiene. They are so set in their ways, that making the switch from cloth and leaves to sanitary napkins and tampons comes with a whole lot of resistance. Unfortunately, the expense involved in purchasing sanitary products doesn't make this proposition any easier. However, explaining the health benefits of sanitary products and strongly discouraging unsanitary ways of handling menstruation will hopefully lead to a change in their practices.

Access to sanitary resources is a crucial point in furthering menstrual hygiene. Several menstruators living in remote parts of the country may not have sanitary products available within reach. Simply wanting to use better products is not a solution until such products are actually made available throughout the country. There is also an abysmal lack of bathrooms for menstruators, a lack of privacy while changing sanitary napkins, a lack of bins for hygienic disposal, and also a shortage of clean running water. These factors, put together make it nearly impossible for one to maintain good hygiene during menstruation.

Several NGOs are engaging in stellar work towards creating awareness and access to sanitary products throughout the nation. Their work ranges from locally producing affordable sanitary napkins for underprivileged menstruators to physically going door-to-door and providing sanitary napkins. NGOs have also played a major role in educating the masses regarding the need for hygienic menstrual practices as well as promoting equal economic opportunity for menstruators. They have fought against the regressive mindset of discrimination for something that is perfectly natural and healthy. Menstrual education has been a key focus for some NGOs that have seen how menstruators are often taken by surprise at the onset of their first period. They not only prepare their young ones beforehand but also explain the biological reasons for menstruation. One cannot thank these institutions enough for the remarkable work they have been undertaking despite having to deal with the immense stigma attached to their field of work.

Ujaas, one such initiative under the Aditya Birla Education Trust, aims to promote menstrual health and hygiene practices by following a more holistic approach. It encourages menstruators to combat the regressive practices they have been subjected to by training and educating them to fight against this oppression. It also works towards creating a better distribution network for sanitary products as well as increasing its user base by making it more affordable for the masses. It may be a long and arduous journey ahead, but for the team at Ujaas, it will be a fulfilling and rewarding one.