Periods are a natural biological process experienced by half the world's population. Yet, the topic of menstruation remains shrouded in taboos, myths, and stigma in many societies. As a result, many young girls and women struggle with menstrual hygiene management, which not only affects their physical health but also their emotional and social well-being.
The lack of access to safe and affordable menstrual products, proper sanitation facilities, and education on menstrual hygiene worsens the issue, particularly for those living in low-income communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for better menstrual hygiene practices, as many women and girls face difficulties in accessing menstrual products due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
That being the case, it is essential to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and empower young girls and women to manage their periods better, ensuring that they do not face any obstacles or limitations due to menstruation.
In this blog, we will discuss why menstrual hygiene awareness is crucial and how we can help young girls and women manage their periods better.
What is Menstrual Hygiene and Health?
Menstrual hygiene refers to the practice of maintaining cleanliness and taking care of personal hygiene during menstruation. It involves using sanitary products, such as pads, tampons, menstrual cups, or reusable cloth pads, and washing oneself regularly to avoid infections. Menstrual health, on the other hand, refers to the physical, emotional, and social well-being of women during their menstrual cycle.
Consequences and Health Risks of Poor Menstrual Hygiene Management
Poor menstrual hygiene management can lead to various health risks and consequences for women and young girls. One of the most common risks is vaginal infections, including bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. These infections can cause discomfort, itching, and discharge which if left untreated, can also lead to more serious conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
In addition to infections, poor menstrual hygiene can also increase the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). The use of unclean or unsanitary materials during menstruation can introduce harmful bacteria into the urinary tract, leading to painful and uncomfortable infections.
Another potential health risk is toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but sometimes life-threatening condition. TSS is caused by toxins produced by certain types of bacteria and can lead to symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and organ failure.
Women and girls who do not have access to menstrual products or proper facilities for managing their periods may be forced to miss school or work, limiting their opportunities and potentially perpetuating cycles of poverty.
Lastly, poor menstrual hygiene management can also lead to environmental consequences such as pollution caused by improper disposal of used menstrual products, contributing to plastic waste in landfills and water bodies.
Ways to facilitate proper menstrual health management
To facilitate proper menstrual hygiene management and to empower girls and women to take control of their menstrual health, there are several steps that need to be taken.
Enhancing individual knowledge and social awareness
The first step is to enhance individual knowledge and social awareness. Young girls and women need to be educated on the importance of menstrual hygiene and the risks of poor menstrual hygiene. This can be achieved through various means such as workshops, education campaigns, and health awareness programs.
Open conversation about menstrual hygiene challenging taboos and cultural beliefs surrounding menstruation should be encouraged. Men and boys should not be left out of this conversation as they too can play an important role in promoting menstrual hygiene management by supporting women and girls, challenging taboos and cultural beliefs, and advocating for menstrual hygiene facilities.
Providing adequate menstrual hygiene management choices
The second step is to provide adequate menstrual hygiene management choices. There are various menstrual hygiene products available in the market, and women need to have access to them to choose the one that suits them best. This includes providing them with a range of options in terms of product type, brand, and size to accommodate their individual needs and preferences.
One important factor to consider is the accessibility and affordability of menstrual hygiene products. In many parts of rural India, these products are not readily available or are expensive, which can lead to menstruators resorting to using unhygienic materials such as rags, leaves, wood shavings, or even cow dung.
To address this issue, efforts can be made to increase access to affordable menstrual hygiene products, such as through government subsidies or partnerships with non-profit organizations.
The Government of India passed the Goods and Services Tax in 2017 which placed sanitary pads in the lower middle 12% bracket, a slight improvement from the previous 18% tax. While this move was a step in the right direction, it still reflects the country's disregard for women's health by failing to recognize menstrual hygiene products as essential items and exempting them from all taxes. This highlights the need for greater advocacy and policy changes to address the challenges and barriers to menstrual hygiene management.
It is also important to recognize cultural factors that may influence the choice of menstrual hygiene products. In some societies and cultures, the use of menstrual products such as tampons may be discouraged due to cultural myth related to virginity or religious beliefs, and alternative options must be provided to help women make informed choices.
Knowledge about types of menstrual products
Menstruators must know the different types of menstrual products available in the market, such as sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and period panties. Educating them about the features, benefits, and disadvantages of each type of menstrual product can help them choose the one that suits their menstrual needs and lifestyle best.
For example, sanitary pads are the most used products, easy to use, and readily available. Tampons, on the other hand, provide more freedom of movement during physical activities, but require proper insertion and removal techniques to prevent infections. Menstrual cups are eco-friendly and cost-effective in the long run, but some women find it challenging to insert and remove. Period panties are also eco-friendly and comfortable to wear but may not provide sufficient protection for heavy flows and need much maintenance.
Providing information on the proper usage, changing frequency, and storage of these absorbents is also crucial. Women and girls must know the signs of menstrual discomfort and infection and how to address them promptly.
Safe disposal of menstrual waste
The fourth step is to ensure the safe disposal of menstrual waste. Safe disposal of menstrual waste is another important aspect of menstrual hygiene management. It is crucial to dispose of used menstrual products properly to prevent environmental pollution and the spread of diseases.
One of the most common methods of disposal is wrapping the used product in toilet paper or newspaper and placing it in a designated waste bin. Some products come with biodegradable disposal bags or containers, which can be a convenient and hygienic option.
It is important to avoid flushing menstrual products down the toilet as they can cause blockages in the sewage system and pollute water bodies. Additionally, burning or burying menstrual products is also not a safe or sustainable option.
The last step is to ensure that there is adequate sanitary infrastructure. It includes providing access to clean and private toilets, handwashing facilities, and adequate water supply. Lack of access to these facilities can make it difficult for women and girls to manage their periods hygienically, especially in public places such as schools and workplaces.
In many developing countries such as India, the absence of proper sanitary infrastructure is a significant barrier to menstrual hygiene management. This can lead to girls missing school during their periods, which can impact their education and future opportunities. Providing adequate sanitary infrastructure can help break down these barriers and empower women and girls to manage their periods with dignity and confidence.
Governments and other organizations can play a crucial role in improving sanitary infrastructure by investing in the construction of toilets, handwashing facilities, and water supply systems in schools and other public places. They can also provide subsidies for the installation of toilets and handwashing facilities in homes, especially in low-income areas.
In conclusion, proper menstrual hygiene management is crucial for the overall health and well-being of women and girls. However, it is a topic that has been surrounded by stigma and taboo for far too long. It is time to break this silence and create a safe space for open conversations about menstrual health.
By enhancing individual knowledge and social awareness, providing adequate menstrual hygiene management choices, spreading awareness about the types of menstrual absorbents, promoting safe disposal of menstrual waste, exploring different menstrual disposal options, and investing in sanitary infrastructure, we can facilitate proper menstrual hygiene management and empower women and girls to manage their periods better.
Moreover, it is essential to acknowledge the challenges and barriers that exist in menstrual hygiene management, including lack of access to menstrual products, limited sanitation facilities, and inadequate education and awareness. It is crucial to address these issues and work towards providing a safe and healthy environment for all women and girls.
Let us break the stigma, raise awareness, and work towards creating a world where menstruation is no longer a barrier to education, health, and equality. Together, we can create a more inclusive and empowered society.
Why is menstrual hygiene a necessity?
Menstrual hygiene is essential for maintaining the health and well-being of people who menstruate. Neglecting proper hygiene practices during menstruation can lead to infections and other health issues. Good menstrual hygiene practices include using clean and appropriate menstrual products, keeping the genital area clean and dry, washing hands regularly, and avoiding certain activities.
What is the importance of menstrual waste disposal?
The proper disposal of menstrual waste is essential for maintaining good hygiene and preventing the spread of disease. Used menstrual products such as pads, tampons, and menstrual cups should be wrapped securely and disposed of in a waste bin with a lid. Proper disposal of menstrual waste can also help prevent clogged pipes and sewage systems.
How can I prevent poor menstrual hygiene?
To prevent poor menstrual hygiene, you should change your menstrual products frequently, ideally every 4-6 hours. It's important to wash your hands before and after changing your menstrual products to prevent the spread of bacteria. Avoid using scented products or douching, as they can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina and lead to infections.
How can I improve my menstrual hygiene?
There are several ways to improve your menstrual hygiene, including:
- Choosing the right menstrual products for your body and needs
- Changing your menstrual products regularly
- Washing your hands before and after changing your menstrual products
- Taking showers instead of baths during your period
- Avoiding scented products or douching
- Wearing clean, breathable underwear
- Using menstrual hygiene products with natural and non-toxic ingredients