Did I get your attention?
Words that are as common as a flu. Yet, how often do we hear it out loud?
My earliest memories of the societal stigma regarding this topic goes back to when I was just 11 years old. I remember my mother dictating me not to talk about this to my brother as she took my stained little skirt. I was born to an educated family and so it always puzzled me why it was such a big secret and why everybody silenced me as my curious mind raised questions. I was always told it’s not something we should be talking about. But that’s where we’re wrong. Such taboos about menstruation present in many societies impact their lifestyle to a great extent and we need to be concerned.
WaterAid’s Menstrual Hygiene Matters report states that globally, approximately 52% of the female population (26% of the total population) is of reproductive age and will menstruate each month. Around 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by negligent menstrual hygiene and women continue to put their health, livelihood and dignity at risk. In many cases they use cloth pads, which can even be made of wood shavings, dried leaves, hay or plastic. 88% of the menstruating women in India have no access to sanitary napkins, 20% of girls reported that they do not have access to a toilet when menstruating and 200 million women lack awareness of menstrual hygiene.
Why? Our country has several misconceptions regarding menstruation. The biggest of them being, the idea that menstruation is impure. In reality, menstraution is basically the thickened lining of the uterine wall shedding naturally at the end of a reproductive cycle if fertilization does not occur. It is further believed that menstruating women are unhygienic and unclean and hence the food they prepare or handle can get contaminated. According to study by Kumar and Srivastava in 2011, participating women also reported that during menstruation the body emits some specific smell or ray, which turns preserved food bad. And, therefore, they are not allowed to touch sour foods like pickles. However, as long as general hygiene measures are taken into account, no scientific test has shown menstruation as the reason for spoilage of any food in making. There are several other myths which stem from superstitious beliefs but have time and about been proven baseless. Myths like these create a negative impact on the lifestyle and health of women and further add to the oppression of the gender.
What can we do about it? First and the most important step is creating awareness about the importance of menstruation and sanitation among the common masses, especially among women and adolescent girls. The seeds of this change needs to begin at every individual home. Further expansion of awareness classes, advertisements and other mediums to reach out to schools, panchayats and municipal corporations can play a vital role. Many countries have exemption of taxes on condoms, which is a choice we make in the form of birth control. Whereas, menstruation isn’t a choice. Introduction of an exemption of taxes on sanitary napkins and/or providing free sanitary products to the under privileged can prove beneficial. Providing free health checkups in rural areas and drives to educate people on menstrual hygiene is necessary. As a part of our prime minister’s Swacch Bharat Abhyaan, constructing of toilets are a very positive step towards improving the sanitation facilities in our country.
But most importantly we need to create an environment to women where they can be free to accept their bodies without discrimination, fear or judgement and lead a healthy life.