Ankita Roy, Ahmedabad: Menstruation is significant to a woman's well being, and imperative to the survival of the species.  Yet, people are still uncomfortable with even saying the word ‘period’. As a result, a natural biological process, which every woman experiences for half her life, becomes a taboo that is surrounded by myth. Women learn to suffer through menstrual cramps without a word of protest, sanitary napkins are sold as if they are contraband, and women are told they are ‘impure’ while they are menstruating. No wonder then that girls grow up feeling ashamed of their bodies.

As Aditi Gupta, founder of Menstrupedia, points out, puberty and menstruation should be considered a welcome change rather than a curse.

Menstrual hygiene challenges:

Lack of toilet puts women’s health and safety at risk, especially in rural areas where women bath in the open in ponds and wells. And as they bath with their clothes on the moisture accumulate all over their body, especially the genitals give rise to numerous diseases. Women wait for everyone to fall asleep so they can go use the toilet without anyone noticing while they are on their period which is very unsafe for they might get attacked in the dark. Girls dropout of school due to lack of toilet and unavailability of sanitary napkins and period cramps.

Availability of sanitary napkin is another big issue for its not available everywhere and hence women often resort to using rags and cloth thus menstrual hygiene is compromised which is a very big risk factor for reproductive tract infection. The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 report shows that the use of Sanitary Napkins among Indian women is 48.5% in rural, 77.5% in urban and 57.6% total. Another study which was conducted in October 2011 by The Neilson Company and NGO Plan India Only 12% women have access to hygienic ways to manage their period and 88% of women resort to shocking alternatives like unsanitised cloth, ashes and husk sand, though this report could to be found on any public domain to testify the credibility of these figures.

Lack of knowledge and improper hygiene exposes one to diseases and infection. “Improve sanitation facilities along with adequate hygiene services have great impact on improving girls’ attendance,” explains Arun Dobhal, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist at UNICEF in an article titled Menstrual Hygiene Key to keeping girls in School .Most girls get terrified at the site of blood coming out from their genitals because they have no knowledge or idea about the concept of period. They don’t understand what’s happening to their body since they have never been told what menstruation is and are clueless when they get their first period. Even in schools more often than not teachers skip the chapter on menstrual cycle or are told to read it on their own.

Amanda Klasing, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch wrote in her article Menstrual Hygiene A Human Rights Issue, “People who make policy and run programs – and even human rights advocates – often don’t fully understand the impact a woman’s monthly period may have on her ability to go about her life if she doesn’t have what she needs to manage it. By breaking the silence around menstruation, women can identify barriers they face in managing it.”

The social taboo on this topic and the social stigma surrounding it is definitely being a hindrance in women’s growth. There are so many myths and misconception when it comes to menstruation. A woman is called impure and is separated from the family and forced to live in seclusion when she’s bleeding. Are made to sit and eat separately and are not allowed to enter the kitchen and are forbidden to touch any religious things like the idols, scriptures, etc. In some places women are not allowed to enter the temple when they are on their period. It has come to a point where there’s no need to tell them, since they voluntarily skip going to the temple when they are menstruating.  All this damages a girl’s self esteem and they grow up following these myths as norm and further impart such ignorance in their children also.

So, this women’s day be more vocal. Speak about the problems women face, discuss it openly with friends and family,create awareness on women’s hygiene for a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and it’s not embarrassing but a sign of good health.