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Menstrual Hygiene Awareness Can Minimise Challenges of Women Health

Menstruation is associated with the onset of puberty in girls, it also many times brings with it rules, restrictions, isolation, and changed expectations from the girls by the society.

Shweta Kumari | New Delhi |

Menstrual hygiene is an important contributor to the general health of women. Despite widespread awareness, Menstrual hygiene continues to be among the most challenging development issue.

Menstruation is associated with the onset of puberty in girls, it also many times brings with it rules, restrictions, isolation, and changed expectations from the girls by the society. This changed attitude towards girls such as restrictions on their self-expression, schooling, mobility, and freedom has far-reaching consequences on the mindset of women.

Many among us still consider it a taboo in society. Even in the current scenario, the cultural and social influences on people create a major hurdle in ensuring that adolescent girls are given proper knowledge of menstrual hygiene. Not just the society, even mothers are also reluctant to talk about this topic with their daughters and many of them lack scientific knowledge on puberty and menstruation.

The main reasons for this taboo still being relevant in Indian society are the high rate of illiteracy, especially among girls, and that too more in rural areas as compared to urban areas. Poverty and lack of awareness about menstrual health and hygiene is the biggest hindrance in the path of development. Many of us even don’t know that in India only less than 18 percent of women use sanitary pads.

Every year May 28 is observed as Menstrual Hygiene Day across the world. Though it is as normal as any other biological function of a human body, where the lining of the uterus breaks down and leaves the body through the vagina, it is still brushed under the carpet and not discussed openly.

Bleeding every month is a natural phenomenon but it also leads to poor hygiene among a large section of rural women who use wood husk, leaves, paper, and other such materials instead of sanitary napkins when on their periods which is the main stigma associated with a woman. This cycle in a woman’s body leads to ovulation and reproduction and yet women feel ashamed and dirty discussing it openly.

According to a survey by the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) in 2015-16, half the women in rural India (52%) do not use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period in India. Available data reveals that Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) remains deprioritized due to factors such as deep-seated social gender construct, cultural myths, and discriminatory traditions.

Sadly, in India, only 48% of adolescent girls are aware of what menstruation is before getting their first period. Young people do not have access to reliable and correct information about their reproductive health and rights. The stigma around menstruation leads to parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders being reluctant to talk about periods. An overall lack of scientific knowledge about menstruation also gives way to myths and misconceptions.

A landscape analysis conducted in 2016 titled ‘Menstrual Health in India’ showed a drastic observation that in nearly 355 million girls in India who have reached menarche, 71 percent reported having no information about menstruation before their first period. The study further explains that many girls believe that they may be dying or ill, the first time they menstruate. Due to societal norms around gender and menstrual taboos, feelings of shame, and impurity around their menstrual cycle are common among girls.