The other day while having a conversation with my brother I realised I’d had the menstrual period for more than 16 years of my life (I’m 25)—that’s longer than most other things I’ve had or done! Yet, often I have to deal with cramps, stains, leaks and the menstrual period never seems to get easier. Why is that?No points for answering–because of the abysmal state of menstrual hygiene education in India. In The Blood Report, a research study conducted by us in partnership with our agency Scbhang, we found out that nearly 50% of all girls never receive any formal education about menstrual hygiene and health during their schooling years.Of those who do, less than 20% receive this education in the presence of their male counterparts. With periods still such a hush-hush topic, how are expecting girls to deal with their menstrual health and hygiene better?
Menstrual Hygiene - A Brief OverviewMost young girls get their menstrual cycle between the ages of 9 and 13. This regular menstrual cycle then goes on for the next 40-odd years. That’s around 2400 days of one's life spent bleeding. My point is, the menstrual cycle, symptoms of menstruation and menstrual health are unavoidable topics for women and it’s important to spend some time thinking about the information we have around it.There are a few basic requirements for the maintenance of a healthy, hygienic and regular menstrual cycle. They are as follows:
- The Correct Menstrual Product: Most women use the menstrual product handed to them by their mothers during their first period. This is usually one from the legacy companies and is often based on the mother’s preference. It is important that young women explore various other choices available to them from disks, cups, to even cloth pads to understand what is best suited to their needs.
- Comfort is Must! A part of exploring includes understanding that rashes, irritation and constant leaks are not common! IF you are constantly having to manage your period with these issues, it isn’t that you have a bad period, but likely that you’re using the wrong period product! Try a specialised heavy flow period pad that comes with 3x absorption, is softer, sturdier and guarantees freedom from leaks.
- Access to water and toiles: It’s very important that women keep their vagina clean and dry at all points of time. On days when one has their menstrual period, they must wash their vagina at the time of bath and pad changes with a clear, non-acidic soap. This wash should be in the direction of the vagina to anus, and not the other way around to avoid bacteria from the anus entering the vagina and causing a UTI. It is also important that women have access to clean, flowing water, toilets and hygiene products at the office, workplace and while travelling.
- Access to a space free of social stigma: Social stigma often forces women to bleed in silence, failing to voice worrying symptoms of menstruation (such as extremely heavy bleeding) or ask for products that could serve them better. This can have a significant effect on the life and mental health of the menstruators involved. It is thus paramount that we continue working towards normalising periods so that every menstruator believes they have the right to have their period in a comfortable and safe manner.
- Access to healthcare: The Blood Report also showed us that nearly 90% of women did not have access to a doctor, or did not consult a doctor even when witnessing worrying symptoms of menstruation. Every woman ought to consult a health practitioner about their period cycles at least once in 6 months. Checking in with the doctor can help make sure everything is well-functioning down there! Falling menstrual health can also be a symptom of a larger problem–which can be solved best through an early diagnosis.
The Significance of Menstrual Hygiene ManagementOut of a total of ~40 crore menstruating women in India, less than 20% use sanitary pads. In urban areas, this number only goes up to 52%. Due to the lack of proper sanitary health and hygiene practices, many women undergo severe difficulties and health problems.A 2019 report by the NGO Dasra revealed that nearly 23 million girls in India drop out of school due to the lack of proper menstrual care facilities such as toilets or toilets with water!Worse, according to a report by India Today, “Illnesses related to a lack of water, basic sanitation and hygiene were responsible for the deaths of almost 800,000 women around the world in a single year making it the fifth biggest killer of women behind heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”The outcome of unhygienic practices during the menstrual cycle can range from urinary tract infections to death. Women can face dermatitis, kidney infections, genital tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and susceptibility to cervical cancer. Alterations in the pH of the vagina can also lead to infertility and other complications when women are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
Existing Roadblocks in Maintaining Proper Menstrual HygieneThe greatest menstrual health hazard today continues to be stigma and lack of awareness. While a few years ago, most menstrual hygiene products were difficult to find, or overpriced, thanks to the work of NGOs, the government and various brands, menstrual pads are now much cheaper and more easily accessible. Our own RIO Regular pad is available at INR 3 per pad, across shops in cities.However, sadly, several women continue to use the cloth to manage their periods. This cloth is often considered a ‘taboo item’ and washed and dried in unhygienic, ‘secret’ corners of the house. The principle behind drying menstrual cloth pads is the presence of sunlight which can dry and disinfect cloth, rendering it fit for use. But the stigma surrounding this cloth prevents any light from reaching it, making it fertile ground for bacteria of all sorts.Families must be encouraged to prioritise the menstrual health hygiene of their female members so that they can access pads, toilets and regular doctor check-ups. A little shift of mindset can lead to great change!
Top Tips to Manage Menstrual Hygiene
- Use a clean, comfortable product that works for you.
- If you have to change pads often, use a heavy flow pad such as an RIO pad. RIO heavy FLow pads are made to be 3x as absorbent as regular napkins and are longer, sturdier and with double wings to prevent leaks of any sort.
- If you are facing irritation or rashes, switch your product. You can try RIO comfort Weave to do away with wetness and sweating, and RIO Cottony Soft to deal better with rashes and irritation.
- Regularly change your pad every 6 to 8 hours.
- Wash your privates with clean, warm water.
- Follow menstrual cycle tracking. This is especially important if you are experiencing any untoward symptoms of menstruation–and can help your gynecologist diagnose any issues better.
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