By Abhijit Bhomia:
Shahana, an eleven year old girl lived in a remote village. She was a student of grade IV. She used rags for managing her menstrual blood. One day after school she came home, changed the soaked rag, washed and dried it under a bean tree for reuse. A harmful insect settled on the rag. Without noticing the insect’s presence, she used this rag the next day. Unfortunately the insect entered her body through the vagina. She felt a serious stomach pain and was taken to hospital. After a week she died.
Who is responsible for her death? Her parents, her teachers or theÂ SOCIETY? Society plays a vital role in the rise and downfall of a civilization. In rural areas, people still believe in old traditions and often land in trouble. The government has to share an equal amount of blame as it is responsible for not reaching out to the villages and spread awareness amongst villagers.
The above mentioned case of Shahana is testimony to theÂ negligenceÂ of the government and of the village men who curb women’s space. This case is just one in millions and there are many which are left unnoticed and unheard.
Yes, I am talking about the problem faced by women in rural areas while they menstruate.
A normal woman spends around six to seven years of her life menstruating and she should have proper knowledge about menstruation cycle. A woman has to be careful while in her menstrual period and keep in mind her menstrual hygiene. If she is using a cloth then she should wash it with clean water and dry it at an appropriate and should not use it when it is damp. One more problem is the sanitation facility, girls skip their school while menstruation because of poor sanitation.
Women and girls need to change their sanitary napkins three or four times a day during the period of menstruation especially in the first three days. The vast majority of women and girls use rags- usually torn from oldÂ saris,Â instead of sanitary towels/napkin. Rags are washed and used several times. There is no private place to change and clean the rags and often no safe water and soap to wash them properly. A culture of shame and taboo forces them to seek for well hidden places even in their homes to dry the rags. These places are often damp, dark and unhealthy.
This practice is responsible for a significant proportion of illness and infection associated with female reproductive health. Rags that are unclean, cause urinary and vaginal infection and very often serious infections are left untreated.
It brings shiver to my spine telling you that women in rural areas useÂ ash, sand and even plasticÂ as sanitary pads. The young girls are shy of changing their pads and even if they do then they don’t have a place to dispose them. Such is the condition, it can only get worse if nothing is done. The patriarchy of our society further complicates the problem, if nothing else.
Menstrual hygiene is one of the most important yet neglected issues in rural India. What the girls and women suffer at the hands of embarrassment and shame is unimaginable. Immediate action is required on this front, of course manyÂ NGOs are making efforts to solve such a problem which is not even talked about, but then we need mass support and government initiatives at the same time.
All of this is linked to our high levels of maternal mortality, which can only be brought down by ameliorating sanitation and hygiene for women in rural areas. Sanitary napkins, which are best designed and suited for menstruation, should be made available at affordable prices to women, it is a necessity.
Awareness campaigns for menstrual hygiene along with an active participation from these women themselves, in voicing their problems and solving them mutually with women community action, is the immediate need of the hour.
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