Menstrual Health and Hygiene in India: Rural India in Rags

Posted on June 13, 2012 in Health and Life

By Priyanka Mittal:

In India lack of hygiene can be seen far and wide, from factories dumping waste into rivers to plastic wrappers being mixed with waste to sanitary napkins being disposed off with other waste. The process of menstruation is one such phenomenon where deficiency of hygienic practices and the subsequent harmful effects can be seen.

Menstruation forms a major part of life of millions of girls and women worldwide- physically, psychologically, socially and culturally. It becomes a part and parcel of their lives until menopause. On an average, a woman will menstruate for 3,000 days throughout her lifetime.

Addressing this issue involves not only the availability of related products and hygiene such as sanitary pads, water, hygienic toilets but also dealing with various social implications that it brings along. To do so, we must not forget the urban v/s rural divide pertaining to this issue.

A sharp contrast can be seen while comparing the rural and urban women. Girls from towns and metro cities are relatively more aware of menstrual hygiene through their mothers or are taught at school and are not faced with too many social restrictions. Sadly, in the rural areas, it is still seen as something unclean and dirty. Most of the adolescent girls in villages still use old rags, cotton during menstruation as they cannot afford napkins. It is a normal practice for them to wash and reuse pieces of old cloth over the period cycle.

The factors responsible for these problems are lack of awareness, proper sanitation facilities and an overall openness about the issue of menstruation. Most of them are not aware about the usage sanitary napkins and end up flushing them after usage leading to clogging of waste. To add to it, they do not have access to proper sanitary facilities due to which they are subject to health risks like urinary tract infection, rashes, and complications during pregnancy.

I wonder why the issue menstrual hygiene continues to be neglected and is still not taken to be significant enough to act upon. Which sector should be taking the lead? Education, health or the private sector? What must be done to change the mind set of people so as to enhance acceptability of it as a natural process?

In order to bring about a change in the way people think about the issue, creation of first hand awareness through educational programs in school, workshops on hygiene during menstruation and government initiatives are imperative. One of such schemes in operation is where girls in rural areas are provided with a pack of six sanitary napkins for Re. 1 a pack. Large corporations, as part of their corporate social responsibility activities, also distribute sanitary napkins at subsidized prices and engage in construction of public sanitation facilities for girls.

The ultimate power, however, to bring about transformation in the way people perceive and deal with the issue resides in the hands of the female gender as they are at the receiving end. It is they who should be the ones to take a step towards the direction of change. They should feel comfortable and free to discuss about it amongst themselves like any ordinary process. Those who are adequately aware must encourage others whose knowledge may be limited so that it stops being treated as a taboo in the society and proper instruction is passed on to the younger generation for a healthier life for Indian women.