By Dr. Anubha Dhal:
To raise awareness on serious social issues, international community dedicates special days that are observed all around the world. Yet some tabooed subjects that have great impact on public life remain ignored.
To break one such taboo, a coalition of international and national organisations will observe the first-ever Menstrual Hygiene Day today (May 28). Menstrual Hygiene Day brings together the polyphonic voices of adolescent girls and women across the globe by providing them a platform to demystify the myths and taboos surrounding ‘menstruation’. The day is dedicated to generating awareness about the pivotal issue of menarche; an important benchmark of the biological and anatomic process of puberty. This day can be used as a platform to unravel the stigma and silences around menstruation and spread positive knowledge about good menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Menstrual Hygiene is central to:
Right to Education: ‘I hate menstruation because I have to miss school during those days and I love my school. There are no facilities where I can change and dispose menstrual waste which is why my mother always makes me stay home.’ Kishori from Bettiah, India.
Huge percentage of adolescent girls drop out from schools because of improper menstrual hygiene education, lack of proper sanitation and safe water, poor access to sanitary napkins, poor infrastructure (private toilets, disposable bins). 6 out of 10 schools have functioning toilet facilities. 68.73% of schools in India have separate toilets for girls. 23% schools in Delhi, 12 % schools in Rajasthan and 39% schools in Maharashtra are without separate girls’ toilets.
Facilities/Provisions: Educating adolescent girls, teachers and parent community about the inevitable, necessary biological steps is the first step towards Menstrual Hygiene Management. The Department of Women and Child Development has institutionalized ‘Kishori Shakti Yojna’ (earlier called Adolescent Girls scheme) a component of ICDS scheme, which commenced from 28th November, 2011. The scheme aims to improve the nutrition and health status of adolescent girls between the age group 11-18. They distribute free sanitary napkins to over 7.50 lakh female students enrolled in the 729 government and government aided schools across Delhi. The School Health Scheme under the Chacha Nehru Sehat Yojna, New Delhi provides iron supplementation to all the students (including girls) under the flagship Weekly Iron Folic and Acid Supplementation Program to help maintain their haemoglobin levels. The program has reached out to over 3 lakh students in Central Delhi.
In addition there should be health talks for both parent and teacher community educating them about the basics of menstruation, for instance: What is Menstruation? When does it happen? Why does it happen? Why is maintaining ‘menstrual hygiene’ important? What are the myths/taboos surrounding menstruation?
Ensuring Women’s Health: Poor Menstrual Hygiene and lack of menstrual knowledge leads to poor physical health ( fungal infections, anaemia, and cervical cancer), social health ( seclusion, notions of impurity) and mental health ( low self- esteem, depression). In addition, it induces stress, fear, and shame. In urban India, 43-88% of girls use reusable cloth, yet they are often washed without soap or clean water. In addition, incorrect method of disposing the sanitary napkins may cause clogged toilets leading to a breakdown of sanitation system increasing the maintenance costs.
Right to Economic Equity: Lack of adequate private toilets, safe running water, and disposable bins among others prevents the parents from sending their girl child to school during her ‘period’, resulting in absenteeism and eventually school drop-outs, affecting the educational qualifications of the girl child. Dropping out from school, denies women the right to education and pushes them back from being economically independent. The lack of poor quality of toilets, availability of water and disposal options further relegates women into the private domestic sphere perpetuating the patriarchal society.
Human Right to Life: Women become the target of gender inequality as they are unable to complete their education, as they are advised to drop out from schools by parents (due to lack of private toilets). The stigma around menstruation and its hygiene inhibits the girl child to lead a life of and with dignity. The constant shame and fear adds to her trauma, leading her to have low self-esteem.
Facilities/Provisions: Health talks on hygiene need to be conducted for girls within the school premises by teachers or health workers. The policy of free sanitary napkins exists, but if the girl is not made aware of how to use and dispose the product, the policy stands ineffective. In addition, more separate toilets for girls needs to be constructed.
There is a massive gap between the various policies and their on-ground implementation. It is of utmost importance that stronger linkages be made between the health and education departments on sensitizing students, parent and teacher community about menstruation hygiene. In addition there needs to be a synergy between the municipal corporation and the respective schools in various states of India.
 District Information System for Education, 2009-2010, National University of Education Planning and Administration, New Delhi.
 District Information System for Education, 2011-2012, National University of Education Planning and Administration, New Delhi.
 District Information System Education, 2010-2011, National University of Education Planning and Administration , New Delhi.
 Dasgupta and Sarkar. ‘Menstrual Hygiene : How hygienic is the adolescent girl?’, 2008.