~By Gayatri Vishwa Diwan
Image Source: BBC
"Periods blood is not impure, their mentality is"
Menstruating is a fundamental fact of human existence, and it is natural and normal to have blood for 5 days a week but it is not normal to talk about it openly. Periods are still discussed in hushed voices and considered a social stigma. Even mothers are hesitant to have open conversations on periods with their daughters. The cultural shame attached to menstruation and a shortage of resources stop women from healthy and normal lifestyles on period days.
Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity and lack of access to safe bathing facilities and scarcity of products of menstrual hygiene results in the inability to manage their menstruation with dignity. The basic accessibility to menstrual products is recognized as a human right now. Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises, and harmful traditions can all turn menstruation into a time of deprivation and stigma, which can undermine their enjoyment of fundamental human rights. This is true for women and girls, as well as for transgender men and nonbinary persons who menstruate.
Period poverty is a lack of access to affordable menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, and a favourable environment where they can manage their period's health without taboos or social stigmas, or a combination of these. Period poverty causes physical, mental, and emotional challenges as it can make people feel shame for menstruating, and the stigma surrounding periods prevents individuals from talking about it.
Source: Journal of Global Health Report
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) Report, 62% of young women in the country in the age group 15 to 24 years still use cloth for menstrual protection. Even after 75 years of independence, when women are promised social and political equality, still face the inaccessibility of period products to women.
It is a matter of solicitude that the use of sanitary napkins is directly proportional to the income level of families. In the poorest families, only around 43% of women use hygienic menstrual products. Another study shows that 71% of girls in India are not aware of their period cycle or menstruation before their first periods. Notably, there is a lack of proper restrooms, menstrual products, and water in Indian schools. Almost 2.83 lakh government schools in the nation do not have restrooms, according to official statistics. The problem for so many teenage menstruators worsens by the conspicuous lack of sanitary facilities.
There is high variation between the states regarding the use of sanitary products. The eight states reported an increase in the percentage of women using period products from NFHS-4 to NFHS-5. While Bihar and Madhya Pradesh ranked first and third from the bottom respectively vis-à-vis the percentage of women using period products, Bihar reported an impressive 90% growth, followed by Odisha (72%) and Madhya Pradesh (61%). The given data depicts the percentage increase in the number of women using period products.
Source: National Family Health Survey
The data uncovers a stark disparity between rural and urban regions. For instance, while nearly 82 percent of women in urban Madhya Pradesh use hygienic MHM methods, the percentage of women in rural areas with this privilege is only 54.4 percent. All UTs except Chandigarh show a different trend. Period-product use in the UTs was higher in rural areas than in urban areas, although the difference was minimal (0-5%). The given statistics portray the difference in the use of sanitary products between the rural and urban areas of the same state.
Source: National Family Health Survey
A report by NGO Dasra and USAID revealed that 23 million girls in India drop out of school annually due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities. According to the report which pertains to the years 2015-16, a staggering 82% of young women in Bihar still depend on clothes for protection during their menstrual cycle. The situation is almost similar in Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh where the percentage of young women using cloth during their periods is 81% in each state.
The Way Forward
Period poverty is a global public health crisis that is still unaddressed in the process of growth and development and it requires serious attention. The government has to come forward with more effective plans for ensuring the accessibility of period products to all the strata of society. The menstruators of a nation need the support of their governments to provide adequate infrastructure and access to affordable menstrual products. Governments can also reduce taxes on menstrual products, making them more affordable. Secondly, awareness among the new menstruators and a conducive environment to openly deliberate on the issue are much needed. The knowledge regarding this can be spread through educational institutions or by campaigning at ground level. Thirdly, the private sector and NGOs have a greater role to play in overcoming the issue as business houses through their products can disseminate information and access to facilities and products, contribute to destigmatizing menstruation, and integrate menstruation management into their policies. The non-governmental organizations through their charitable programs can serve the same purpose.
Period poverty is a critical issue that is still unconfronted on the higher level of policymaking and social deliberation. Those experiencing period poverty may have mental health challenges and serial physical health risks including difficulties in conceiving or pregnancy. This matter surely has to be addressed on the policy-making level so that appropriate steps can be taken to overcome this.