World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021: A  Matter of Pride Not Prejudice

By Sudha Hariharan

Just weeks ago, Instagram deleted a photo posted by Instagram user Rupi Kaur. In her photo, a fully clothed woman is asleep on a bed, blood visible through her sweatpants and on the sheets of the bed. Instagram claimed that the photo violated the community standards. It didn’t. Society is upset when women are empowered by their bodies, or when the masculine cannot exert control over the feminine.

Each year On May 28 World Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed with the objective of changing the social stigma attached to menstruation.But why May 28? That’s because  the menstrual cycle for most women is 28 days and the period is 5 days—28/5. Menstruation is not a problem, but menstrual hygiene and the myths surrounding  menstruation are. Over 800 million women and girls menstruate every day, yet they face barriers to properly managing their periods. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these barriers.

World Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed to help break taboos surrounding menstruation, raise awareness of the importance of good menstrual hygiene  worldwide. Better WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene)and management of water resources means better health, nutrition and dignity for women and girls. It frees up more time for education and employment, reduces vulnerability to gender-based violence and empowers them better economically.

Now women are being trained how to make reusable, low-cost sanitary pads. This is benefitting the community as a w whole. Before, girls who could not  afford sanitary pads dropped out of school because they were teased by boys if their clothes became stained.In India 71 per cent of the girls are not aware of what menstruation actually is and 21 per cent dropped out o schools.Now. not only are girls able to stay in school but as women in the community are building their business by selling their extra pads in the market ,they are making a living and supporting their families

Currently more than 500 million people do not have what they need to manage their period.The risk of period poverty is higher among refugees who have fled their country due to conflict or natural disasters and rely on humanitarian aid programmes for their basic needs. The risk has further increased by the pandemic which has obstructed the access to products due to lockdown, disruption of supplies and inflation.

How does Menstrual Health & Hygiene (MHH) influence girls’ ability to succeed?

One major way is through its impact on education. Period poverty can be detrimental to a girl’s school attendance, test scores, and completion of secondary education – potentially clipping her wings for life.

In rural India and even in some urban areas in South India, the monthly “ Theetu” requires women and menstruating girls to confine themselves to a room,not was vessels, light the lamp  for 5 days.

Dr Ashwini Bhalerao Gandhi, Consultant Gynecologist at PD Hinduja hospital & MRC says they have been spreading awareness via zoom meets among urban women too. “ Every girl and woman needs to take care of hygiene during every menstrual period. Taking bath every day is important.”

About 3 decades ago,most girls used cloth which could be washed, dried in the sun and reused. “Things have changed now,” she says.

“There are different devices available to take care of menstrual blood. They absorb this discharge so that there is no soiling of clothes.  Sanitary pads are available in the market. They should be changed frequently depending upon amount of bleeding.  These used pads should be incinerated. But this facility is available only at limited places. These pads should not be flushed in the toilet. Instead they can be wrapped in waste paper and thrown in the special dust bins.”

“ Some women prefer to use tampons which should be placed inside the vagina. Now a days menstrual cups made up of silicone are available. They can be washed whenever required and reused.And they last for  years!”

Surprisingly, reuable napkins are now gaining popularity.  Disposal of single use sanitary napkins creates a big problem to the environment ( the blue shield) does not degrade  and some girls and women find them expensive. Hence reusable napkins made up of soft cotton cloth is a good alternative. They can be washed with soap and water and dried in sun. This way they can be reused multiple times.

Another interesting option, says Dr Ashwini, is the biodegradable sanitary napkins made up of bamboo shoots. Last but not the least period panties is the latest addition to protective devices. The material has the ability to soak and retain accumulated blood. These panties also can be washed and reused. Women and girls should consult their gynecologist to get more information regarding these different protective devices to keep themselves clean and hygienic avoiding infection.

“ Maintaining hygiene is very important, India is now home to 25 per cent of the world’s cases of cervical cancer and each year more than 1,30,000 new cases are added.

Women living in poverty resort to using whatever they can find: soil, corn cobs, dirty rags, and other unsanitary items. In addition to the high price of menstrual hygiene products, women are driven to desperate measures to keep their periods a secret due to the shame brought upon them by others finding out. “

We need to encourage openness while discussing menstruation- emphasizing the point that it is just a normal bodily function, nothing to be ashamed of—on the contrary it indicates that all is fine with the woman and her health is conducive to regeneration.

How to keep yourself clean during your period

Wash the genital areas twice a day.

Keep all unused cloth and pads in clean plastic bag

Pat the genital area dry  before using fresh cloth, pad.

Always wipe from front to back after defecation

Never douche( wash out) the vagina with water.

Always carry extra napkins if you are travelling.

Keep area between legs dry to avoid soreness /itching

Wash genital area after urinating.