We all must be aware of poverty. It is the lack of enough resources to support the necessities of life. According to UNFPA, “Period poverty describes the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products. The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability women and girls face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies.”
The right to live with dignity and the right to health and hygiene is the fundamental right. But is it valid for all circumstances? Accessibility is the quality of being able to be reached, yet most women have restricted access when it comes to essential menstrual hygiene products.
Is menstruation a taboo?
A cyclical shedding of the uterus lining, with the discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the vagina, is the basic meaning of menstruation. It occurs for 2-7 days every month in girls and women aged between 12-45. A woman in a lifetime menstruates almost 40-50 times. So a good period product or menstrual hygiene which ensures good health should be a necessity and not a disgrace of such a natural process. A large population calls it a ‘curse,’ ‘unethical, ‘impure ‘ based on superstitions. Millions of women undergo this process every month, yet it is a hushed topic around the globe.
How real is Period Poverty?
National Family Health Survey Data 2015-16 survey pegs women using unhygienic means of managing menstruation in India at 42% overall. The condition is more frightening in rural areas. Today, nearly 4 out of 10 women in India don’t have access to disposable sanitary napkins. School absenteeism is another issue that arises due to this, which directly affects the literacy rate. Every 5 in 1 girl misses her school because of a lack of menstrual hygiene. According to a report, 23 million girls drop out of schools because of a lack of basic sanitation facilities. Because of shame, discomfort, hesitation, many girls opt not to ask for pads or any other product cloth is easier instead.
Another report from the Union Ministry Of Health says that only 12% of women are accessible to proper period products, and 88% enforced to use rags, sand, paper towels, toilet paper, or cardboard while menstruating.
The situation in other areas appears dim. Thus the condition of women in India is not very good, and there is a need for more innovative approaches to deal with the situation of period poverty.
Effects of unhygienic menstrual practices
The use of unhygienic means other than any period product makes women susceptible to many death threatening diseases.
- It can cause dermatitis,
- urinary tract infections(UTIs),
- change the pH balance of the vagina,
- bacterial vaginosis,
- all of these leading to cervical cancer and or uterine cancer.
Not just physically, but lack of facilities affects mental stability as well. Young girls lose their confidence, suffers from anxiety and depression because of period poverty.
The introduction of Sex Education in the curriculum has not reached the desired results until now, and more needs to be done. 71% of adolescents have no idea of periods or menstruation before they experience it. A 2016 study titled – ‘Menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls in India’ involving nearly 100,000 girls in India found that almost 50,000 did not know about menstruation until the first time they got their period.
The cultural norms and values, and the stigmatisation of the topic, leads to silencing this issue around the country. The exclusion of boys in menstrual education creates a sense of ignorance and leads to instances of bullying around. Periods are much more than just shame. And worse is Period Poverty.
Period Poverty is cumulatively the lack of access to sanitary products, misinformation, or no information about menstrual hygiene, lack of restrooms and washrooms, handwashing facilities, and or waste management. Not being able to access these facilities makes it even harder to handle periods with safety and dignity.
Initiatives: Government and Other Organisations
To attain menstrual equity and to preserve dignity large number of government policies were implemented.
- NGOs and healthcare workers are putting their steps forward in bringing awareness.
- Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya campaign was introduced in 2014 to ensure every school in India has functional and well-maintained ‘WASH’ facilities. The ‘WASH’ facilities included soap, private space for changing, adequate water for washing, and disposal facilities for used menstrual objects. Menstrual hygiene management is an integral part of the Swachh Bharat Mission Guidelines (SBM-G).
- Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has issued the Menstrual Hygiene Management Guideline to support all adolescent girls and women. It outlines what needs to be done by state governments, district administrations, engineers and technical experts inline departments, and school headteachers and teachers.
- RKSK (Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram) is a health programme for adolescents launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It focuses on addressing the health needs of adolescents through a separate clinic for them where their clinical test can happen, young adults, are given iron-folic acid tablets, free sanitary napkins, among other initiatives.
- UNICEF is a global leader in menstrual health and hygiene activities through the development and humanitarian programmes across the world. They commit to building programmes that increase confidence, knowledge, and skills – and improve access to materials and facilities – for adolescent girls, women, transgender, and non-binary individuals to manage their menstruation safely and with dignity.
- Safe and effective menstrual hygiene management, or ‘MHM’, is a trigger for better and stronger adolescent girls and women development.
- An organisation named ‘Goonj’ works with the local women who make handmade cotton cloth pads. It is helping in increasing the income of women as well as attacking period poverty.
- Menstrupedia, an enterprise, publicise comic books on menstruation in the local context to impart public awareness and education around menstrual health management to adolescent girls in schools.
- The Limitless Stree initiative is trying to bring out awareness through its menstrual hygiene campaign. It has conducted a session under the guidance of Dr Diksha, from The Purple Nest and trained young women about menstrual hygiene practices, period poverty and sustainable menstruation. It has also partnered with Dr Nasreen and conducted an Instagram Live session on menstrual hygiene, explaining all the audience’s queries about the best practices about menstrual hygiene and throwing light to period poverty.
Many organisations are working relentlessly for spreading awareness through groundwork, field visits and, digital media.
What more could be done?
- The first and foremost step is spreading awareness. The barrier in adopting menstrual hygiene is people are not aware of it.
- Menstrual hygiene products are necessary and not a luxury, so the taxes that come under ‘pink tax’, which women usually pay for the personal feminine product, should be removed.
- Schools should have proper toilet facilities and access to pads for menstruating girls. This will ensure fewer dropouts.
- Awareness camps in rural areas, taking the help of the village panchayats, school principals and teachers, must be conducted.
- The role of Asha workers could be very instrumental in regard, right from generating awareness, providing knowledge and access to the menstrual hygiene products.
- Sanitary Napkins must be provided in Public Restrooms for their easy accessibility.
Tackling all these issues will surely bring a change, and if not, the consequences are inevitable. Menstrual hygiene is non-negotiable and demands immediate attention!