Menstrual health. We’ve all heard about it. But what is it anyway? why is it so important? Menstrual health is the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in relation to the menstrual cycle. In simple terms, it refers to staying healthy and hygienic physically, mentally, and socially during periods.
Having good menstrual health is crucial for the well-being of all menstruators. When I say “menstruators”, I refer to every person who menstruates/has periods. It is important to understand that not every menstruator is a woman and not everyone who identifies as a woman menstruates. There are approximately 355 million menstruators in India and, according to an article in “The Wire”, over 40% of young women in India use unhygienic menstrual protection. With that number, it is no shock that India’s menstrual health and hygiene is such a challenging development issue.
If you thought there are no longer any taboos attached to menstruation in India and that we’ve successfully battled away the shame related to periods and normalized the ‘period talk’, I hate to be the one to break your bubble. Yes, it’s 2021 and we’re still ashamed of periods.
Periods are still considered taboo and people still shy away from talking about them. This has created a lack of education around it. According to one study, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation before their first period. Parents only rarely prepare their children and most of them lack scientific knowledge about puberty and menstruation, and a lot of schools are reluctant regarding educating them about menstruation too.
Periods are basically Voldemort. With all the hush-hush around “he who must not be named”, it is inevitable for young menstruators to have no clue about the blood rushing out of their vaginas; and thus, the unpleasant state of menstrual health in India.
Let’s go through the list of all the most common myths related to menstruation in India, shall we?
…And the list goes on. Absurd, isn’t it? Women in India have to go through this absurdity every month, and most women follow it religiously. Now, how are we supposed to have good menstrual health when we are stripped out of the basic hygiene practice of washing our hair?
The lack of toilets and the absence of waste management systems in rural areas make it difficult for rural menstruators to have safe and hygienic periods. I don’t know what else to say. This point is very clear and straightforward. There is no further explanation needed.
To understand this point, we’ll have to do a little math. An average menstruator, in their lifetime, has about 456 periods, i.e 2280 days of blood, cramps, and mood swings.
|Sanitary product||Cost per product||Cost per period|
|Sanitary pads||Rs 5-7||Rs 150|
|Tampons||Rs 12-14||Rs 250|
|Menstrual cups (lasts about 5-8 years)|| Rs 500
|Pantyliners||Rs 4-6||Rs 120|
This will add up to Rs 70,000 – Rs 1,60,000 for 456 periods. And that’s not it, there’s more. We would also need pain killers, heating pads, new underwear to replace the stained ones, comfort food, etc. Adding it all up, in an entire lifetime, periods could cost us over a whopping Rs 2,30,000. Wow, all that money for a basic biological process.
Out of the 355 million menstruators in India, 70.62 million are living below the poverty line. This means, 70.62 million menstruators can’t even afford basic menstrual hygiene products. According to menstrual health experts, this situation is getting even worse due to the current coronavirus crisis.
In this journey of making menstrual health more accessible in India, small steps have been taken. In 2018, India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products. Though this is a win, there is still a long way ahead.