• 2021-03-05

The Reality Of Period Problem In India

Period poverty is often described as a lack of access to menstrual education and sanitary products. With 800 million women and girls menstruating daily, this is a subject that concerns half the population around the world.

Another term used when there is a lack of sanitary products and other essentials like toilets with clean water due to financial constraints in the region. According to the report, most of the schools in South Asia fell short of the WHO standards of one toilet for every 25 girls. Though the UN has recognized menstrual hygiene as a global public health and human rights issue, globally 1.2 billion women lack basic sanitation and hygiene. With taboos and superstitions in a country like India, even an open discussion in schools is impossible and about 71% of girls in India are unaware of menstruation before their first period. Many still believe that if one consumes food cooked by a woman in her period, they shall be reincarnated as an ox in their next life, while others view periods as a sign. Some even view the natural cycle as God’s curse on women. Low levels of awareness among the rural poor, coupled with religious restrictions transform these myths into absolute truths in Indian society. There are women across the globe not experiencing menstruation due to various medical conditions. India's initiative of service tax on sanitary pads or napkins has not essentially impacted largely as a result of the lack of resources.

According to the report of the Indian Ministry of Health, only 12% of menstruators in India have exposure to proper period products. The rest of 88% however, is largely dependent on unsafe materials like rags, cloth, hay, sand, and ash as their only alternatives. This exposes them to infectious urogenital diseases such as urinary tract infection (UTI), bacterial vaginosis with skin irritation, vaginal itching, white and green discharge, and others. An average of more than 40% of students in India resorts to missing school while menstruating as a consequence of isolation, embarrassment, and inaccessibility of products. The instances of avoiding school are the result of the lack of proper sanitation facilities across the country. The main reasons are the lack of clean toilets in schools and poor access to sanitary products. There's also fear of staining and girls worry about being mocked by their classmates. It has been estimated that 1 out of 5 girls drop out of school after they start experiencing the menstrual cycle. As a result of such ineffective, unhealthy measurements, young girls are exposed to physical health risks from a very early age. This also puts a negative impact on sexual, reproductive, and mental health. It is also found that a large number of women considered periods as dirty, explaining why menstruating women are not allowed to do any social and cultural activities and are forced to put up with all sorts of restrictions. It is time we realize that menstruation is just a biological process and the secrecy surrounding it must go. It is important to normalize menstruation and destroy taboos around this natural process.

Period poverty

The issues of encompassing period poverty are being addressed by various civil societies aimed at establishing menstrual policies across the country. It is also important to address various forms of government advocacies. ‘Swachh Bharat', ‘Swachh Vidyalay’ campaign was introduced in 2014, to ensure every school in India has functional and well-maintained WASH facilities. The WASH facilities included the availability of soap, private space for changing, adequate water for washing, and disposal facilities for used menstrual objects. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) would include how teachers and school management takes active participation in spreading awareness around menstrual health and how the school answers waste management facilities. This would comprise clean female toilets, safe disposal of sanitary products, and emergency availability of sanitary napkins.

The efforts have been made for the installation of napkin-vending machines and increased accessibility of environmentally safe disposal mechanisms. The organization named Goonj facilitates the production of simple-reusable cloth pads made by local women. From an early age, girls learn to live with the pain and fear and seldom a girl seeks help when in physical or mental discomfort due to periods. Approximately 70.62 million people in India live in extreme poverty at less than ₹150 per day. The average Indian woman needs 300 rupees ($4.20) per month for menstrual products. For low-income households, the cost of sanitary pads is often unattainable.

Furthermore, Since most adolescents do not have access to toilets at home, girls are more likely to pay for restrooms in public, which is another unaffordable expense. It is estimated that families of 70% of women in India cannot afford sanitary napkins. There remains a massive gap between effective program planning and successful implementation of existing policies resulting in the drop out of 23% of girl-child from schools as they reach puberty. While some parts of period poverty seem daunting, other parts seem hopeful. In 2017, the Indian government labeled menstrual products as luxury goods. Quickly after the announcement of the new tax, the public gathered to campaign against it. In July of 2018, the government removed the tax, thus making sanitary products more accessible to low-income households.

Solution on period poverty in India

  • It is important to construct a movement towards any vulnerable menstruators (girls with physical and mental disabilities).
  • Trans-men, adolescent girls living in streets, child laborers, and individuals are to put in institutionalized juvenile centers.
  • There is strong restriction amongst males to learn about these issues in which they consider shame and disgrace.
  • It is important, both young boys and girls are being taught and learned about it.

Ending the taboo

  • We need to have conversations and start talking about what has always been a “woman’s issue."
  • Our lack of open discussion has created a very lonely and troubling problem, and our wives and daughters, sisters, and aunts are experiencing menstruation stigma in India.
  • A young girl in rural India feels like it is a burden to be a girl and to go through her period every month. She feels that when her period starts, her life comes to a halt.
  • India’s population includes 225 million adolescent girls who are uncomfortable, lacking confidence, feeling dirty, and are uninformed about what is going on with their bodies. Menstrual taboos in religions and cultures are difficult to combat due to longstanding roles in the societies in which they exist.
  • We need to keep talking and raising awareness about menstruation stigma and period shame.

Education

  • Educators need to teach girls in India where to find economic resources to purchase menstrual supplies, or how to request adequate sanitation facilities at school.
  • Young women need to be taught how to deal with the pain and discomfort of cramps and where to find the supplies they need.
  • Lack of education links to infection as well and due to menstruation issues in India, girls have no place to dispose of soiled menstrual products, so they must dig holes and incinerate soiled clothes and towels used to catch the period flow.
  • Girls must be taught to feel confident and unafraid before they get their period.

Maintaining Hygiene

  • Hygiene-related practices of women during menstruation are important for a variety of reasons. One of the most pressing is that poor menstrual hygiene management may increase vulnerability to Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI’s).
  • Poor menstrual hygiene management in India, due to inappropriate materials used for blood soaking that may be contaminated by harmful organisms, is a major reason for RTIs in India, and it contributes significantly to female mortality.
  • Many of the adolescent girls in villages in India use rags and old clothes during menstruation, they are at an increased risk of and susceptibility to RTI’s. Health care professionals are desperately needed in India.
  • Not only adolescents and girls, but all of society can benefit from greater awareness of self-actualization, family health, child survival, and even average life expectancy improvements made when mental or physical health risks are understood.

Need for clean washrooms

  • Another need is toilet facilities that are usable for women who experience menstruation. There is a need for more flexible school rules with allowing toilet visits while in the classroom, which would promote keeping girls in school during their period.
  • Lack of adequate materials and facilities for menstrual hygiene management is linked to the absenteeism of girls from school during their periods.
  • Due to menstruation stigma and period shame, even when a young girl is courageous and attends school, she has a difficult time concentrating on classroom materials. She is rather wondering if she is soiled in the back of her clothing and how embarrassed she will be when she has to rise to walk out of the classroom.

Ultimately, when looking at period poverty in India, one can see it is a very prevalent issue. Menstrual inequality is often caused by shame around the conversation as well as the high cost of feminine products. This creates challenges in education and an increased risk of disease. However, many positive strides are being made, and governments are starting to see that this is a cause worth advocating for.

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