By Shruti Banerjee
“Out of 1.8 billion women, transgender men and non-binary persons of reproductive age, at least 500 million lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management,” says an article on World Bank.
The challenge lies in making proper, sanitary and safe menstrual products available despite the economic, cultural, and geographic constraints. Early teen years mark the onset of the first menstrual cycle (menarche) and is often accompanied by self-image issues and emotional crisis. The complete lack of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) at public places, especially in low to middle-income countries (LMIC) further perpetuates the cultural stigmatisation and “shame” that accompanies menses.
Absence of clean washrooms with intact doors and bins for easy disposal of used period products increases gendered absenteeism in middle and high school levels, which has severe economic repercussions for the girl child and the country.
The overall mystic air around women’s bodies and what happens during menses exacerbate conditions. Women are actively discouraged from being a part of the day to day activities citing ‘impurity’ and ‘sin’ while on their period. The gaping hole in the sex education curriculum (if any) leads to girls and boys growing up without awareness about human bodies. This misinformation or no information has serious, often lethal ramifications on sexual and reproductive health. Only 48% of women have heard of menstruation in India before their menarche.
The primary source of information for girls about menstruation remains the sparsely or uneducated mother who help perpetuate the age-old stigma surrounding the ‘dirty’ disease.
Catering to the diverse needs of disabled menstruating individuals (about 1 billion, source: UNICEF, 2019) has always taken a back seat. The common notion that disabled women do not menstruate needs to be dispelled. Changes need to be made at local levels regarding facilities, products, knowledge and social support to expect the integration of individuals with special needs in the larger society.
Given the challenges women and girls face, Menstrual Health Management (MHM) is not just a sanitation issue but the question of human integrity, dignity and opportunities. Involving men and boys in the conversation of safe menstruation for all and providing biodegradable period products that are diverse and disability conscious are the new needs of an ever-growing youth population.