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OpinionsMAY 28 - ON MENSTRUAL HYGIENE DAY Break the silence: Why Menstruation...

MAY 28 – ON MENSTRUAL HYGIENE DAY Break the silence: Why Menstruation still triggers shame?

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Menstruation: a hindrance to gender equality

By Seema Jain

Menstruation remains a taboo topic, shrouded in secrecy and discomfort. Despite being a natural and healthy process, societal stigmas and misconceptions perpetuate discrimination against many adolescent girls and young women. This stigma, coupled with limited access to menstrual hygiene products, strips them of opportunities, infringes on their rights, and curtails their freedom.

For decades, efforts have been made to dispel the myths surrounding menstruation and address menstrual health and hygiene. Menstrual Hygiene Day was first celebrated on May 28, 2014, through the dedicated efforts of the German organization WASH United. The main objectives of this initiative are to dispel social and religious misconceptions, raise awareness about all aspects of menstruation, and engage policymakers in advocacy. The theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day 2024 is “Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld.” Various efforts are being undertaken to normalize menstruation by 2030, reflecting the 2022 theme. This is especially challenging in developing and Global South countries, where gender inequality is already prevalent due to many other factors.

Menstrual hygiene is not just a health issue; it is a human rights issue. From the onset of menstruation, girls face discrimination at home, in educational institutions, during religious ceremonies, and in other settings. During their periods, girls and women are often isolated and considered impure and untouchable due to prevailing misconceptions. There is no societal infrastructure to educate girls about menstrual hygiene management, leading to psychological trauma when they menstruate for the first time.

With the start of menstruation, several restrictions are imposed on girls, causing continuous gender discrimination and missed opportunities. Even in urban areas, girls miss school due to inadequate infrastructure and facilities to manage their menstruation, resulting in them falling behind in their studies and potentially dropping out. In the absence of adequate awareness and facilities, women with disabilities are sometimes forced to undergo hysterectomies without their consent. The lack of discussion on menstrual hygiene management and the unavailability of menstrual hygiene products exacerbate reproductive health problems, and social misconceptions contribute to child marriages.

Recognizing the lack of separate toilets for girls in schools as a significant barrier to their , the Supreme Court of directed governments to ensure mandatory separate toilets for girls in all schools. It was often observed that the absence of separate toilets led to girls not attending school during their periods. Despite the presence of girls' toilets, menstrual hygiene management in schools remains inadequate. In response to a public interest litigation, on November 6, 2023, the Supreme Court directed the central government to develop a uniform menstrual hygiene management plan for schools in collaboration with all union territories and states.

The main demands included providing free sanitary pads to all girls from grades 6 to 12, ensuring separate toilets with safe sanitary pad disposal units in all schools, and maintaining these toilets. Following the Supreme Court's directives, the central government has drafted a policy on menstrual hygiene. Under the National Health Mission, a scheme to promote menstrual hygiene is also being implemented, where ASHA workers in rural areas educate girls aged 10 to 19 on this issue and provide six sanitary pads for six rupees.

Initiatives by various NGOs, films like ‘Padman,' and advertisements have propelled us towards change, but much remains to be done at the ground level. Even today, high-quality pads are scarce in villages. Implementing the menstrual hygiene policy by providing free pads and menstrual hygiene management in all schools is essential. Ensuring the refilling of vending machines for sanitary pads in community and public toilets and making working sanitary vending machines mandatory in all community and public toilets across the country, including those at bus stands, railway stations, and airports operated by private operators, is crucial.

While sanitary pads ensure menstrual health and hygiene, the environmental damage caused by pad disposal needs to be mitigated by promoting other environmentally friendly options to manage menstruation healthily. We have indeed progressed towards menstrual hygiene management, but we need to reach a point where no girl or woman faces discrimination due to menstruation and is not deprived of her rights. (IPA Service)

 

(Writer works with

CREA – international feminist human rights organization)

 

Northlines
Northlines
The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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