There is a major problem for girls and women in resource-poor countries, which adversely affects the health and development of adolescent girls. In India, girls are missing school, work, and important life events because they cannot afford sanitary products to practice menstrual hygiene management. What would it be like to miss a week of your life every month because you are unable to afford taking care of your personal needs?
In her TEDx Talk, A taboo-free way to talk about periods, Aditi Gupta states 88 percent of girls and women in India use unhygienic ways to manage their periods. Aditi, like most girls in India, was not allowed to sit on the sofa or a family member’s bed during her period, and she was called impure. She was not allowed to touch food items. There were signs outside temples to indicate she was forbidden to enter while menstruating.
The importance of adequate menstrual hygiene management in India
In India, girls use primitive products like toilet paper, old towels, socks, or newspaper because they do not have access to sanitary supplies. As a teenager, life can be tremendously challenging. Dealing with parents, teachers, pressures of society, becoming aware of self, and puberty itself is already a challenge for most young girls. Being unable to afford menstrual products is robbing many girls around the world of their adolescence and healthy transition to young womanhood.
“No girl should miss out on education because she can’t afford menstrual products.”—Amika George, Founder, #FreePeriods
Young women have to make the choice to go to school unprepared for “their period,” or stay home and fall behind in studies, creating a daunting task to catch up. As a consequence, isolation is occurring both socially and academically, and in the family.
How to address menstruation issues in India
1. End the taboo
We need to have conversations and start talking about what has always been a “woman’s issue.” Manufacturers of sanitary products are discreet in their messaging. We are discreet in our conversations about “that time of the month.” Our lack of open discussion has created a very lonely and troubling problem, and our wives and daughters, sisters and aunts are experiencing menstruation stigma in India. We must change life for the women of India and we must do it now!
A young girl in rural India feels like it is a burden to be a girl and to go through her period every month. She feels that when her period starts, her life comes to a halt. India’s population includes 225 million adolescent girls who are uncomfortable, lacking confidence, feeling dirty, and who are uninformed about what is going on with their bodies. Menstrual taboos in religions and cultures are difficult to combat due to longstanding roles in the societies in which they exist, but that’s why we need to keep talking and raising awareness about menstruation stigma and period shame.
Educators need to teach girls in India where to find economic resources to purchase menstrual supplies, or how to request adequate sanitation facilities at school. Young women need to be taught how to deal with the pain and discomfort of cramps and where to find the supplies they need.
Education is key! Some superstitions are passed down through generations, due to menstrual taboos in religions and cultures. Menstruation stigma still exists today in India; a young woman may be told not to touch anything while she is menstruating—if she goes in the kitchen, she cannot touch oil, as it is believed that could pollute the holy lamp, and she cannot touch the spice container, or that will become contaminated as well.
Lack of education links to infection as well. Due to menstruation issues in India, girls have no place to dispose of soiled menstrual products, so they must dig holes and incinerate soiled cloths and towels used to catch period flow. Girls must be taught to feel confident and unafraid before they get their period. However, in Breaking The Silence: A Film on Menstruation and Hygiene in Rural India, we learn the frustration in knowing there is no one to teach young girls because their mothers were never taught.
3. Improve access to obstetricians
Hygiene-related practices of women during menstruation are important for a variety of reasons. One of the most pressing is that poor menstrual hygiene management may increase vulnerability to Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI’s). Poor menstrual hygiene management in India, due to inappropriate materials used for blood soaking that may be contaminated by harmful organisms, is a major reasons for the high prevalence of RTIs in India, and it contributes significantly to female mortality.
Because many of the adolescent girls in villages in India use rags and old clothes during menstruation, they are at an increased risk of and susceptibility to RTI’s. Adolescent girls comprise one-fifth of India’s population and yet their hygiene health needs remain largely unaddressed in the national welfare programs due to period shame. Poor menstrual hygiene management in India and in developing countries has been an insufficiently acknowledged problem.
Obstetricians and other health care professionals are desperately needed in India. Not only adolescent girls, but all of society can benefit from greater awareness of self-actualization, family health, child survival, and even average life expectancy improvements made when mental or physical health risks are understood.
4. Access to clean, usable restrooms
Another need is toilet facilities that are usable for women who experience menstruation. If there is not one available, girls will stay home from school. Due to menstruation stigma and period shame, even when a young girl is courageous and attends school, she has a difficult time concentrating on classroom materials; she is rather wondering if she is soiled in the back of her clothing and how embarrassed she will be when she has to rise to walk out of the classroom.
There is a need for more flexible school rules with allowing toilet visits while in the classroom, which would promote keeping girls in school during their period. Lack of adequate materials and facilities for menstrual hygiene management is linked to absenteeism of girls from school during their periods. We can change the face of the girl who drops out of school permanently with the onset of puberty due to toilet facilities that are not clean nor provide privacy to girls while they are menstruating.
What is already being done to end period shame in India?
In June 2010, the Government of India proposed a new plan towards menstrual hygiene management in India by a provision of subsidized sanitary napkins to rural adolescent girls. There is a desperate need to bridge the gap with education and awareness. Girls should be informed of the availability and quality of napkins. They can be informed about the supply of regular napkins, privacy, disposal of napkins, water supply, reproductive health education, and family support.
The Indian Dreams Foundation is going forward to enable girls in India to attend workshops to inform them about menstruation-related myths affecting the cultural and social life of adolescents. The Girl Fund Campaign 2019 invites supporters to make a difference in women’s lives by supporting with a donation during the campaign, no matter how big or small.
Solid waste management rules of the Government of India sanitary pad manufacturers provide a wrapper with each pad, and must be deposited in landfills as non-biodegradable waste.
Save the Children is investing in keeping girls in school programs with step-by-step framework for Menstrual Hygiene Management Issues (MHM).
We can help remove the stigma of menstruation in India
Let’s not allow menstruating to be a taboo subject that creates stigma, shame, and silence among young girls which will continue into adulthood and increase the cycle of gender inequality. Let’s not force girls to keep their menstruation a secret when they go to school.
We must take action by providing the much-needed products to girls in India and the world. And we must change our attitude too. We have been silent too long! We expect a quiet servitude from girls who are not provided the necessities of life. Are we to believe we are insignificant and useless in the fight to do what is right for any cause, let alone one so private and necessary?
Girls in India deserve educational programs that are child-friendly and raise awareness about menstrual hygiene management (MHM). They deserve safe and private sanitation facilities, and a means for safe disposal of menstrual waste. They deserve to be girls thinking about their future, not challenges such as leakage, odor, discomfort, and difficulty concentrating. Through growth and change the girls of India will finally find cause for celebrating womanhood.
Period products should be provided in all universities, schools and colleges. Very soon we must end period poverty!
The GoAbroad Foundation is working to remove the stigma of menstruation in multiple communities around the world. Donate today and we’ll ensure your donation goes to helping young women around the globe!
Post originally written by Shirley Kwosek Sciacca, GoAbroad Writer’s Academy Member