Breaking the silence

The film Padman has definitely drawn national attention to a long-neglected issue in India, and Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s announcement recently of #YesIBleed, the national campaign on menstrual hygiene, might just be a critical entry point for the country to talk about India’s “period poverty”.

However, for a long time, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) was not a priority area in the public health agenda and national programmes did not do enough to make this a focus area. Young girls in many parts of India are still growing up with limited knowledge about managing their menstrual cycle, largely the result of a lack of education and awareness about personal hygiene as well as resources.

Many barriers

According to UN data, 66% of Indian girls are unaware of menstruation before their first period. For 23% to 28% of girls in rural India, periods, together with a lack of private spaces and facilities are a major reason for their being out of school. Cultural beliefs, hygiene practices, and social attitudes have also been limiting girls from using washroom facilities, more so during menstruation. National Family Health Survey 4 data state that a staggering 62% of young women in India are still using cloth which leaves them vulnerable to health issues such as urinary and reproductive tract infections. Also, till recently, girls in rural areas did not have access to affordable menstrual management products. There are still not enough suitable and safe spaces for women to manage their menstruation in a hygienic manner. There are also widespread reports of restrictions and isolation of girls during menstruation.

These factors put together adversely affect the health and personal development of girls, and, in the long run, lower their workforce participation and opportunities of growth.

On government interventions, since the Reproductive and Child Health Programme (RCH) in 1997 was not target-driven, menstrual health got space but was not completely addressed. While the government has from time to time initiated several national level efforts, nothing has been done as yet to change social norms. Menstrual health is a comprehensive, multifaceted issue and evidence has shown the need to address it on war footing. It is not only a public health issue but also a human right, for, every menstruating girl and woman must have access to a safe, clean and private space.

It is vital to adopt a sustained approach to tackle menstrual management. We need to build on the existing momentum through public-private partnership, which will require working with other civil society organisations within the districts of operation, identifying and involving community-based organisations, and ensuring that they move toward a viable model. A multi-sectoral response involving water, sanitation, urban planning, education, health, and the social sector can ensure that appropriate, evidence-based, and cost-effective interventions and policy are developed and implemented for the benefit of girls and women.

One such example could be the special emphasis on the Swacch Bharat Mission, which along with Menstrual Hygiene Management – national guidelines (2015) clearly lays down recommendations for State governments, district administrations, technical experts in line departments and schoolteachers to support girls and women with MHM choices, addressing their needs of sanitation, hygiene, privacy and safety.

An initiative to address menstrual health through a national campaign such as #YesIBleed will raise awareness and ensure that every girl and woman gains the requisite knowledge on menstrual management and has greater access to hygiene products at affordable prices to comfortably manage her periods with dignity.

Vishal Chowla is Director, Resource Mobilization, Save the Children in India


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 6:21:08 PM |

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