Menstrual Hygiene & Taboos

What is Menstrual Hygiene?

What is menstrual hygiene? As defined by JMP Hygiene Working Group, 2012, Menstrual Hygiene is:

“Women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. They understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.”

Survey shows us that about 52% of the female population worldwide is of the reproductive age and hence most of them are menstruating every month, i.e. on a 28 days normal and healthy cycle. But most of them have no access to safe and clean sanitary products, the privacy to be able to change their pads or even to wash themselves; but this is just a fragment of their plight. The taboos, stigmas and restrictions that have been built up around women who are menstruating are stupendous and include: menstruation is not to be spoken about. It ought to be silent and away from the glare and sight of the world etc. etc. Thus the girls and women are shoved out of view and segregated in pockets, away from their regular routine of life.

Inadequate hygienic methods of sanitary protection lead not only to health problems, but it also leads to adolescent girls dropping out of school, thus negatively impacting their education. This aggravating concern brought to fore the pressing needs for both menstruating girls and women to maintain menstrual hygiene, such as the need for water and sanitation. Menstrual Hygiene Management is an important topic that needs to be promoted and discussed. Inadequate information and education in this regard is taking a toll on the health of women and girls and is indirectly affecting the sectors they are in and thus the economy of the country on the whole.

A major difficulty that the teachers in school face are imparting knowledge about the entire process of menstruation is that they do not have the proper training to teach about menstruation and the hygiene to maintain. This puts the girls in schools at a risk of not being able to understand their body well and hence not be able to handle it well either. Girls are more susceptible and at risk of various kinds of sexual harassment, bullying, attacks, and shame. Girls and women with disabilities need the education and understanding more than the mainstream females.

Why Is Menstrual Hygiene Important? 

Inadequate information about Menstrual Hygiene for woman has spelled more harm than any benefit. Sex Education is left largely untouched and not imparted properly in schools. At home too, the girls are not educated about the changes that they have to expect and encounter with the onset of puberty, what type of hygiene they need to follow and how they need to take care of themselves when their periods start. On the contrary, these girls start their menstrual cycle with little or no knowledge about it, replete with a list of “what not to do.” Unaware that menstruation is a physiological process and a vital sign of a the reproductive health of women and girls, they live under the blanket of ignorance that menstruation is a kind of sickness, an evil omen, and perhaps even a curse verging on to becoming untouchable and makes them slaves of a sense of guilt. Little or stringent support from the family makes these girls suffer in silence, which has a direct implication on their mental health. Their stress leads to poor physical health which in turn leads to delayed cycles making them all the more vulnerable to believe that menstruation after all is not a good a thing to happen and that they should keep themselves away from their male family members and God, lest they incur the wrath of the almighty. Most of these girls and women have either no access to safe and clean sanitary products or they cannot afford it. As a result they make use of anything that is easily available to them to absorb their menstrual blood, such as rags, cotton cloth and newspaper and sometimes they simply stay in their underwear without changing them. This has a very disastrous effect on their reproductive health. It has been found that the problem is more in the rural areas than in the urban locales. Lack of clean water and sanitation benefits such as a proper washroom or a latrine makes girls and women delay changing their soiled sanitary pads for long durations which is very unhygienic. This in turn leads to infection, staining, which in turn makes them uncomfortable and susceptible to bullying and shame. Sometimes their lack of access to proper sanitary protection makes them use rags which they insert into themselves. Such kind of horrendous menstrual hygiene and protections leads to rashes, more discomfort and makes a girl/woman believe in the age old tradition that they should seclude themselves within the confines of their homes and not venture out during their menstrual cycle. 

The choice of protection which girls or women make during menstruation is guided by a plethora of factors. Menstrual hygiene is partially a personal decision and partially based on what would be accepted by the culture and the tradition; add to it would be the environment of the girl or the women, her availability of funds to buy herself the protection and access to clean water.

What Are Some Of The Taboos Linked With Menstruation?

Apart from this, there is a whole bunch of myths, taboos and stigmas that go with menstruation and menstrual hygiene; and this is not just restricted to a country or culture, but pervades across the globe. Rules and practices followed through centuries and generations have sometimes proven to be beneficial (like a menstrual hut for rest during these times), but in most cases have been instrumental in curbing the progress of women and been harmful too. There are some cultures that believe that menstruating females should not bathe for fear of becoming infertile and this practice is not at all hygienic during menstruation. Other restrictions placed on menstruating women in some cultures include should not touching a cow or a growing plant or looking in the mirror. There are restrictions imposed on their food habits of menstruating women too. Animal protein is to be avoided, jams and pickles are a strict no-no, and sour tasting food is to be avoided, all these restrictions are a curse for women having their periods. Apart from leading to a low self-esteem, a sense of shame and embarrassment and poor hygiene, these norms have nothing beneficial to offer in terms of menstrual hygiene or anything.

But what seems to be common across traditions is the restriction of movement imposed upon women during menstruation which is one of the greatest taboos related with menstruation. The “impurity” of menstruation, as projected, puts women in a predetermined code of behavior to be strictly followed during such times. Not participating in games, limited physical exercises, restricted entry to places of worship are, but a few of such common practices which a menstruating woman should abstain from. The glaring deficit that stares one in the eye is the lack of proper education and awareness about the entire menstrual process.

What Should Women Do To Maintain Menstrual Hygiene?

  • Shower or bathe, at least once a day to maintain menstrual hygiene. 
  • Use clean undergarments always and especially during periods.
  • Regularly change your undergarments to maintain good hygiene; especially during periods.
  • Change the sanitary protection used during menstruation every 3 to 4 to maintain good hygiene during menstruation.
  • Menstruating women should wash their genital area with plain water after every toilet use for adequate menstrual hygiene.
  • Menstruating women should keep their groin and thigh area dry.
  • Menstruating women should make sure that no soap or any other chemical product enter the vagina, more so when they are menstruating.

Menstrual Hygiene: What Measures Need To Be Taken To Spread Its Awareness

Structured programs around menstrual hygiene need to be developed and women and girls should be trained through them. In this context many organizations have come forward and taken up the cause, noted amongst them are UNICEF, JMP Hygiene working group, and WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) to name a few. The aim of these organizations is to educate about the process of menstruation as firstly being biological; and secondly that menstruation is not something to be ashamed about. Periods are not dirty and unclean. Menstruation is a natural process, which a girl and her family need to accept it as any other physiological process. These organizations give access to accurate and researched information thereby educating the girls and women about the need to opt for proper sanitary protection, the frequency at which they need to be changed, the importance of washing themselves with soap and water, and thus keeping themselves clean during their periods. They also educate them on the proper method of disposal of the used sanitary pads (putting in bins, washing, burning etc.) and how to reuse, if they plan to. They also garner up education around the challenging and the discriminating taboos about menstruation. They help in improving the availability of sanitary items and access to it, especially in schools and workplaces. These organizations also help marking out areas that would give girls and women a safe way to change their sanitary pads.

A part of the education programs also includes the topic of the risk of infection that these girls and women are exposed to during menstruation because the blood that oozes out of their body also creates a route for bacteria to invade their uterus and other reproductive organs. A comprehensive table of the protection they use along with the practice of menstrual hygiene and health risks that might be involved is made available to them. These studies mention that there are certain physical discomfort that is associated with the menstrual cycle, such as lower back pain, abdominal cramps, bloating and also mood swings, all of which has been classified as pre-menstrual symptoms or menstrual symptoms and can be easily treated with pharmacological products. Alternatively In case in the absence of that home remedies can also be followed.

Another aim of these organizations is to empower women in taking an active part in decision making process, the decision as to when they choose to bear a child and her decision as to how many children she would wish to mother. She is made aware of various information and given an understanding of products and facilities that she might want to make use of in her decision making process. She is also guided to help her break out of the shroud of silence and gather social support for herself and others like her.

These organizations also conduct research and surveys on health impacts related to poor menstrual hygiene and do an in depth understanding of whether a condition related to periods is a menstrual disorder or simply associated with poor menstrual hygiene. They bring to the fore that there is no one umbrella under which all girls and women can be classified. Girls and women’s conditions are largely guided by their culture, their environment, family and religion. The situation under which they live along with their age and maturity has a lot of impact on the way they handle their entire menstruation process.

What Is Menstrual Hygiene Day? 

Menstrual hygiene day or MHD is held every year on the 28th of May. This is a yearly awareness day that purposes to highlight the importance of menstrual hygiene management. This was started by the German NGO WASH United, in the year 2014, and it aims at educating women and girls across the globe on menstruation and everything related to it. MDH has over 410 global partners. The month of May has been chosen with a purpose. A menstrual period lasts for five days and a menstrual cycle is of 28 days, both these numbers put together gives us the date of 28, and the fifth month of the year, May which equals to 28 May. MHD also aims at addressing the health and psychosocial aspects of menstruation.

Why Is Menstrual Hygiene Day Celebrated?

The main aim of Menstrual Hygiene Day is to raise awareness about menstruation and the hygiene which needs to be followed to everyone irrespective whether they are girl, a woman, a boy or man. Discussions about the challenges and difficulties that girls and women face during their periods, the solutions that are being provided for them form a major part of this discussion on Menstrual Hygiene Day. The rights of the girls and women are recognized and incorporation of the same into national and international policies and projects also forms a part of it. Another important aspect that is dealt with is body literacy and gender equality.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, menstrual hygiene is very important and its awareness needs to be spread in every corner of the world to every girl, woman and man irrespective of caste, nationality, religion and ethnicity. We need to disregard and explain away the myths of the baseless taboos regarding menstruation and follow a hygienic route which will take the girls and women of towards a healthy tomorrow. 

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