What You Need To Know About Menstrual Hygiene (That You Were Probably Never Told)

I want men to read this first because they are the reason why women whisper about their periods. Yes, if you’re a man, you can encourage women to take care of their health and hygiene as much as she can help herself.

I remember a very special class taken in my school when I was in the eighth standard, a class only for girls. We gathered in a hall to listen to a well-known local gynaecologist. She was there to discuss periods. It was really awkward as we had been brought up in an environment where a “period” was a deep dark secret meant only to whispered about.

The doctor rubbished the myths we had grown up believing. Some of them being:

  • We cannot bathe on the first day of our periods.
  • We cannot eat pickles during periods.
  • We cannot run or exercise during periods.
  • We cannot get a haircut during periods.

That day, I understood periods in a very simple way. It is a biological phenomenon the causes the walls or linings of my uterus to be ruptured and shed every month – hence the blood. There is no shame in breathing, eating, defecating, urinating and ejaculating – so it should be the same for periods, a natural phenomenon of our daily existence.

Take action!

After demolishing these myths, the doctor moved to the most important aspect of periods – hygiene. The one thing that is of utmost important during this time is your cleanliness – taking baths, using sanitary pads, changing pads etc. The national menstrual hygiene guidelines specify the following:

  • Take a bath or shower at least once a day.
  • Use clean undergarments and change them regularly.
  • Change pads or tampons regularly, preferably every 6 hours
  • Wash the genital area with plain water (no soap) after each use of toilet and even after urination.
  • Keep the area between the legs dry, otherwise, you may experience chafing.
  • It is very important to remember that the vagina has its own self-cleaning mechanism and an external cleaning agent like deodorant or soap should not be used inside it.

I was lucky enough to study at a good convent school, where they talked about such an important issue which is generally not discussed at homes. I am fortunate enough to be in the 12% of 355 million menstruating women in India who have access to sanitary napkins.

What about the millions of other women who cannot afford sanitary pads and have no access to literature on menstrual health and hygiene?

The government should immediately look into this, not as a secret issue that women have to deal with but as a matter of national concern, as it is about the health of half of the country’s population. Removing the luxury tax on sanitary napkins is the least the government can do – preventing menstrual infections is not a luxury.

Whereas to promote menstrual hygiene, every school should have such awareness programs, the government needs to step up its game and appoint workers and mobilizers to educate women in rural communities and slums.

As responsible citizens and as young women, surrounded by women of all ages, both literate and illiterate, here’s what we can do: try to talk to them. Break the silence and talk about menstrual health, about the guidelines mentioned above. Talk to your domestic help, to those younger than you; talk to women you can reach in slums and other communities. Let’s save lives.

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