Menstruation is a natural and integral aspect of life for the majority of women, occurring on a monthly basis for approximately two to seven days. Despite its commonplace occurrence, menstruation faces stigmatization on a global scale. Insufficient awareness surrounding this natural process fosters harmful misconceptions and discrimination, potentially depriving girls of typical childhood experiences and activities. The presence of stigma, taboos, and myths hinders both adolescent girls and boys from gaining knowledge about menstruation and cultivating healthy habits.
Menstrual protection methods have evolved over time.In ancient Egypt, people used softened papyrus, a plant resembling grass, to absorb menstrual blood.Before the availability of commercial menstrual hygiene products, women commonly used pieces of cloth to absorb menstrual flow. They often crafted homemade menstrual pads from various fabrics or other absorbent materials.Even after the introduction of disposable menstrual pads, they were initially expensive, making them inaccessible for many women. As a result, cloth or reusable pads continued to be widely used.The economic factor played a significant role in shaping menstrual hygiene practices. Many women relied on homemade solutions due to the cost of commercial products.
The term “on the rag” originated from menstrual rags. While it initially referred directly to menstrual pads, its modern usage has evolved into a euphemism for menstruation.The development of disposable menstrual pads marked a significant shift in menstrual hygiene practices, offering a more convenient and accessible option for women. Over time, advancements in materials and technology have led to a wide range of menstrual products catering to diverse preferences and needs. Fortunately, discussions around menstrual health and hygiene have gained prominence, contributing to increased awareness and accessibility of menstrual products worldwide.
Menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) is indeed integral to the well-being and empowerment of women and adolescent girls. Adequate MHH calls for clean and safe spaces for changing and disposal of menstrual materials. Access to such facilities is essential not just for maintaining hygiene but also to ensure dignity. Further, knowledge about sexual reproductive health, including understanding about the menstrual cycle, is crucial. This knowledge not only empowers women and girls to manage their menstruation with self-esteem, but it also dispels discomfort or fear associated with it. This is not all, an enabling environment also plays a significant role in ensuring MHH, because it is important to address discriminatory practices, and stigma associated with menstruation. Unless the rudimentary norms and practices are challenged, accessing resources for menstrual hygiene would be difficult.
In recent years, people have been talking more about problems related to not having proper ways to manage menstruation. Some girls might miss school because they have no guidance on ways to handle their periods. And hence, it is important to understand that taking care of menstruation better is directly corelated with good education, gender equality, and availability of clean water and sanitation facilities.
How much menstruation affects the activities of women and girls can be different depending on the situation, but it is a significant issue, especially in countries with lower incomes. Many studies say that not having good ways to manage menstruation makes a lot of girls skip school or even leave school altogether. When girls and women are asked why they do not go to school or work, they often mention about not having clean bathrooms, not having a good place to wash, change, and disposing the materials used. Girls also talk about cultural rules that exclude them during menstruation. Studies have also revealed that many schoolgirls refrain from bathing during menstruation due to the social taboo of coming in contact with water at this time. And at times girls are compelled to stay in huts or sleep in fields during their periods. This can mean not being allowed to touch water, plants, cook, clean, socialize, or sleep in their own bed while having their period. Many of them are also scared of being teased or made fun of.In many cultures, onset of menstruation is seen as a sign that a girl is becoming a woman and is ready for marriage. This also leads to some girls leaving school early.
Apart from these aspects, several studies highlight the connection between using inappropriate materials for absorbing menstrual blood and health issues linked with it. For example, use of materials that does not dry easily can lead to infections among girls and women. When girls and women have access to sanitary materials that are safe and affordable for managing their menstruation, this reduces the risk of infections. Conversely, poor menstrual hygiene can pose serious health risks, contributing to reproductive and urinary tract infections.
Further, inadequate disposal of menstrual materials, especially in public places, prompts women and girls to secretly dispose of their menstrual waste, causing environmental harm. This is a significant issue especially where flushing menstrual waste down the toilet continues to cause expensive blockages and damage to sewerage systems.
In a scenario of limited information and understanding, discussing menstrual health and hygiene at all levels is crucial for several reasons. Open discussions help normalize menstruation, breaking down the societal stigma and taboos associated with it. When people feel comfortable talking about menstrual health, it contributes to a more inclusive and understanding environment.Menstrual health discussions should not be limited to one gender. Inclusive conversations involving all genders help create empathy and understanding, breaking down stereotypes and promoting a more equitable society. These discussions also help in development of policies that address the needs of individuals who menstruate, including access to menstrual products, facilities, and education. Advocacy efforts can be strengthened through informed conversations.
Thus, promoting menstrual health and hygiene is crucial for upholding women’s dignity, privacy, bodily integrity, and, consequently, their self-efficacy. Increasing awareness amongst all and at all levels builds an environment that fosters non-discrimination and gender equality. In such an environment, female voices are heard, girls have choices about their future, and women have options to become leaders and managers.