Sixteen-year-old Agrima (name changed) lives in a small village a few kilometres from Delhi. She does not have access to sanitary pads. She manages her menstrual blood with a few old pieces of cloth. Every period, she washes the clothes, dries them in a dark corner of her home and reuses them.
It is considered a taboo in her family for her to enter the kitchen, sit on a chair or bed, or be touched by anyone when she is bleeding.
“I feel like a thief in my own house… like I have done something bad,” she says. “I wish it would stop. I wish I could be like those women in the movies. They don’t have to hide.”
Dirty, un-sun-dried cloth is not considered an adequate means to manage menstrual hygiene. Every period, Agrima runs the risk of catching bacterial, fungal infections or sepsis, which could even claim her life.
She is one of many menstruators around the world who continue to attempt to manage period hygiene quietly, secretly, in silence, and at great risk.
Every month, 1.8 billion women around the world menstruate. Each of them deserves the best possible menstrual health and hygiene.
Unfortunately, less than half of them receive it.
Menstrual Health & Hygiene - A Brief Overview
Menstrual hygiene should not be considered a privilege. Yet, at least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene.
Let us start by trying to understand what constitutes adequate period hygiene.
Proper menstrual health and hygiene allow for women to bleed comfortably; using a material that is safe and convenient to use, in a space (such as a toilet) where they may have adequate access to resources such as water, soap, and waste disposal systems.
Menstrual health also includes the right to discuss, express, and access information and medical advice on menstrual hygiene in a stigma-free environment.
Thus, for adequate menstrual health, all menstruators deserve the following:
- Access to clean toilets with clean running water in a safe space away from prying eyes, close to their homes/place of study/occupation.
- Period products that are safe to use
- Period products of their choice, of adequate size, capable of holding all ranges of period flow.
- Information on menstrual health, abnormalities, myths and management.
- Medical help from trained professionals on how to handle cramps, heavy flow and larger issues such as uterine wall thickenings and fibroids.
- An environment where they can bleed free of stigma and discrimination.
Significance of Menstrual Health Management
According to a 2014 report by the NGO Dasra, 2.3 crore girls in India drop out of school when they begin menstruating.
Only 38% of menstruating girls in India discuss menstruation with their mothers, found a 2012 report by the Indian Council for Medical Research.
Annually nearly 60,000 cases of cervical cancer deaths are reported every year from India, two-thirds of which are due to poor menstrual hygiene, NDTV has reported.
Such numbers lead to girls dropping out of school, falling sick, refusing to leave home, getting depressed and even failing to understand what is happening to them.
Thankfully, the latest National Family and Health Survey 4 found that 58% of young Indian women (15-24 years) use a hygienic method of protection (mostly sanitary pads) to manage their menstrual hygiene—a huge boost from 12%, in 2010. Further, due to active work by local governments and NGOs various contenders now do understand the importance of menstrual hygiene.
This is the beginning of a good wave of change.
Menstrual Hygiene - What Are The Key Challenges
Now that we've established the significance of menstrual hygiene, let's take a look at some of the major challenges that those working in the industry face.
- Quality of products being used - be it plastic pads or cloth pads, the product being used is of great importance to hygiene during menstruation. While the government has set a standard for disposable sanitary pads (IS 5405), this is not enforced. As a result, several poor quality pads in the market do not provide adequate protection or absorption.
- Information on products - What women require are not pads with chemical odours that can be worn for 12+ hours, but pads that are made of suitable material can be changed every 6 hours and can be disposed of safely. All menstruators must be aware of menstrual hygiene tips such as the advantages and disadvantages, hygiene practices, cost, environmental cost and suitability to her skin and flow type, with regards to their pad.
- Information on pad disposal - When menstruators lack access to disposal facilities, they often tend to extend the use of the product beyond the recommended time (till they find a place to throw it). Alternatively, you could end up burning it, flushing it down the toilet, or throwing it into bodies of water. Both of these can have dire implications for both the menstruator and the people she is surrounded by.
How To Ensure Top-notch Hygiene During Periods?
Some of the most important menstrual hygiene tips are as follows:
- Change your sanitary napkin every 5-6 hours. Menstrual blood attracts bacteria and fungi, which multiply in the moist, warm environment of the pad. These can cause infections, UTIs or rashed. All RIO pads use imported antibacterial SAP which automatically repels the growth of organisms on the pad surface.
- Wash yourself properly – Washing your vagina properly, especially when on your period, is an essential menstrual hygiene tip. Make sure to wash in straight strokes from the vagina to the anus—the opposite can lead to the transmission of bacteria from the anus to the vagina. Also make sure to wash your vagina, as far as possible, when changing sanitary pads. While using vagina hygiene products every day is a good idea, skip them during your period.
- Discard your period product correctly - If you are using pads, wrap them in newspaper and keep them in a clean, dry bin space. Throw out the garbage immediately after each period to save it from turning into a breeding ground for microorganisms. Do not flush them down the toilet, or throw them into water bodies. Wash your hands well after handling sanitary waste. Have this segregated and set preferably to an incinerator.
- Use the correct pad - Several women, to manage heavy flow, end up using two sanitary napkins, or one pad and one tampon. These products are not built to be used like this and can lead to itching, rashes, and even pick up infection. Instead switch to the RIO heavy flow pad. Made with super-absorbent antibacterial SAP, the RIO pad is built to give you the best possible comfort along with adequate menstrual hygiene. Free of chemical fragrances, and artificial colours, this pad is easy on your skin, can withstand even the heaviest of flows, and comes with wings and side leg-guards which give you dual protection from trickle leakage from all angles.
How to use a sanitary pad
Sanitary pads are the most common hygiene products designed to be worn by girls/ women during menstruation to absorb menstrual flow. Knowing how to use a sanitary pad will give you confidence and help you manage your period effectively. Here are a few tips on how to use a sanitary pad:
- Wash your hands – The first and most crucial measure is to ensure hygiene. When using a pad, your hands should be clean.
- Unwrap the pad – Remove the sanitary pad from its packaging by unwrapping it. Stick it on your panty after peeling off the lengthy central backing.
- If the pad has wings, take the adhesive off the wings and fold them around the outside of the panty to keep the pad in place. This minimises leaks caused by rapid flow.
- Dispose the unwanted wrapping. If you are already wearing a pad, wrap it in the wrapping and put it in the trash.
Most menstruators take great care of their homes, jobs and others in their own lives. We hope every menstruator will pause for a few moments and take care of their own menstrual health and hygiene before going on in their lives. Self-care is the crucial first step to being able to care for others. Menstruators, you are worth it!
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