Menstrual Hygiene: A Paradigm Shift From Toilets To Women's Health
A transformative shift from the Swachh Bharat Mission's focus on toilets, calls for a spotlight on menstrual hygiene in India . While the mission successfully addressed open defecation, the sanitation landscape for women, especially concerning menstrual hygiene, remains an urgent concern that demands comprehensive attention.
The Menstrual Taboo: A Silenced CrisisDespite the scale of menstruation affecting approximately 355 million women and girls in India, it remains a largely taboo subject, concealed by secrecy and stifled by shame. The silence surrounding menstruation leads to a stark absence of dialogue at individual, family, and community levels, perpetuating the challenges women face.
Pearl Tiwari , Director and CEO of Ambuja Foundation , highlights the pressing issues: "Many rural women lack access to sanitary napkins due to financial constraints, lack of awareness, and a lack of product availability. With approximately 50% of women using cloth during menstruation, and with almost 20 million girls dropping out of school every year, due to lack of hygiene, separate toilets and availability of sanitary napkins – menstrual hygiene for women and girls is the need of the hour when it comes to sanitation in India."
The Four-Pronged Approach: Raising the Bar on Menstrual HygieneTiwari advocates for a comprehensive, four-pronged approach to address the critical gaps in menstrual hygiene management and to uplift the standards for women and girls in India:
1. Access to KnowledgeThere is an imperative need to empower women and girls with knowledge about their bodies. Grassroots health workers play a pivotal role in spreading awareness about the human anatomy, the reproductive system, the menstrual process, appropriate hygiene practices, and the changes occurring during puberty.
2. Access to Menstrual ProductsEven with increased awareness, obtaining sanitary pads remains a challenge due to societal stigma and economic barriers. The National Family Health Survey underscores that 50% of women and girls still use cloth napkins, posing risks of infections. Breaking this barrier involves addressing the unavailability of menstrual products and the cultural inhibitions hindering open communication about their necessity.
3. Access to MHM & WASHSchools in rural areas often lack essential facilities for managing menstrual hygiene, leading to girls dropping out of school. Collaboration between rural health workers, NGOs, and schools is essential to establish clean and hygienic infrastructure, including gender-specific toilets, clean water, soap, and changing spaces.
4. Access to Safe DisposalThe improper disposal of used sanitary napkins poses environmental and health hazards. Addressing this issue requires a behavioural shift through awareness campaigns on proper disposal methods. Installing disposal machines and specially designed collection bags or incinerators in schools is crucial. Additionally, exploring cost-effective, biodegradable sanitary pads can mitigate the environmental impact caused by commercial alternatives.
A Call to Action for Women's Well-beingAs World Toilet Day prompts a reflection on India's sanitation journey, it is imperative to elevate menstrual hygiene into mainstream discourse. The nation must unite in comprehensive, holistic actions to secure the health and well-being of its women and girls today and in the future. Let us break the silence and champion the cause of menstrual hygiene management nationwide.
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