Broaching the very subject may require precautions. A failure by the smallest degree may spark any number of catastrophes. Of course, we are talking about the not-so-unnatural, and the very-much-biological phenomenon – menstruation.
The hushed tone at the beginning is not for the educated and the liberated. On the other hand, it is a call to untie a large section of the Indian populace, especially the females, from their skewed perceptions of monthly bleeding.
The scientific explanation behind menses has not seen the light of day in many parts of the country. And how can they see the light, if more time and efforts are dedicated to burying this topic, instead of talking about it?
For the less privileged, periods are the few ‘cursed’ days of the month. You cannot enter the temple, kitchen or take part in any auspicious occasion – because you are ‘impure’. It does not end here. Talking about menstruation, that too in public, is a sin which cannot be atoned for. Even washing the ‘impure’ clothes should be done as covertly as possible. Any violation of these norms – and society disowns you!
Without deviating much, let’s face it – do we see why cases of reproductive tract infection (RTI) are on a steady rise? To begin with, it is vital to know that only 12% of Indian women have access to sanitary napkins – the remaining 88% having no access whatever – according to the results of the study, “Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right”, undertaken by AC Nielsen.
So, what alternatives do the remaining 88% women resort to? Would you believe if these alternatives happen to be unsanitised cloth, husk sand, tree leaves and even ashes! It was hard for me to stomach! But alas, statistics and evidences do not lie.
Statistics obtained by the study show that cases of acute RTI are 70% more common in these women. The starker fact is that they cannot afford ‘luxuries’ such as sanitary pads.
This clearly answers why 30% of the girls in north India (who were interviewed for the survey) said that they dropped out from schools once they started menstruating. In the survey, nearly 97% of the gynaecologists stated that using sanitary napkins considerably reduce the chances of contracting RTI and cervical cancer, as well.
So, what is the one major concern? Knowledge or cost? Actually, it is both. However, a greater number of women seem hard-pressed due to the financial burden. Even if the taxes levied on sanitary napkins (SN) and sanitary towels (ST) are lifted, things aren’t likely to change much.
In June 2010, the union health ministry announced a scheme of ₹150 crore to increase access to sanitary napkins. It promised to supply a pack of six SNs to the girls below poverty line at a minimum cost (₹1 per pack), and ₹5 per pack to the ones above poverty line. Regardless of whether the funds have been suitably channelised or not, the dire state of menstrual hygiene in India has shown no signs of improvement.
The villages in the remote parts of the country have medicine shops and hospitals that often do not sell essentials – sanitary napkins being one of them. On being questioned, the shopkeepers blatantly say that they are not in demand in the localities – and rightly so, because breaking age-old practices will take a few more ages!
A strategic approach to alter the regressive mindset of the multitude is imperative at the moment. Different health organisations can arrange campaigns in educational institutions. Their main objective should be to detach the people from the stigmas that bind them. These women should know what exactly is causing all the suffering. Moreover, the consequences of poor hygiene should be deeply imprinted into their minds, even if it costs days and weeks of struggle.
The best approach would be to categorise women into different age groups and educate them on the dos and don’ts of menstrual issues. Convincing them about facts like ‘period clothes’ should be dried in bright sunlight, proper bathing is necessary during that time (and a lot more) may seem herculean, at the beginning. But once the young women learn that they need to open up about menstruation, half the effort will already have been successful.
In a country where women themselves speak of menstruation as ‘the monthly problem’ or ‘the monthly illness’, propagating the various aspects of periods (especially the health-related ones) is not a one-man-task. It will take more than mere lip-service to eradicate the taboos. The day these women will embrace the ‘menstruation talk’, without cringing, will be the day we celebrate liberation!
Image used for representative purposes only