As my classmates and I debated about the stipulation of menstrual leave, we soon realized that we were speaking from a position of privilege. In a country where people do not have adequate access to water and sanitation, menstrual leave seemed like a quixotic dream which would benefit only a tiny fraction of the population.
Although India has made strides in reducing poverty over the past few decades, more than a quarter of India’s population is still living in poverty. Overpopulation and increasing unemployment have further caused an immense amount of pressure on the country’s resources. When people are trying to somehow meet the basic needs such as water, food and shelter; adequate sanitation facilities and sanitary napkins can be less of a priority.
WHAT IS MENSTRUAL HYGIENE AND MANAGEMENT?
“Women and adolescent girls using clean menstrual management materials to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials”.
WHAT IS PERIOD POVERTY?
Period poverty refers to a state wherein the people who menstruate are not able to afford sanitary products like pads. According to the latest data collated by the ministry of health, only 12% of women and girls have access to sanitary napkins in India. A majority of them rely on outdated, unhygienic methods during menstruation. In some villages. oil, ashes, dust and cloth scraps are used to soak up the blood. These replacements used at their peril are incompatible and make them susceptible to cervical cancer.
The taboo and stigma associated with menstruation further exacerbate the issue of menstrual hygiene. Only 48% of the adolescent girl’s population in India are aware of menstruation before menarche. Inadequate knowledge and information impede the ability to adequately deal with menstruation. Restrictions are concomitant with menstruation. Menstruating people are barred from entering the kitchen, going to temples and are often treated by others in a demeaning manner. In the worst-case scenario, people who menstruate in villages are segregated and it has also led to deaths.
Lack of discussion about menstruation not only in public forums but also in households has suppressed menstruating people from voicing their needs and demands. Big changes cannot happen overnight but we can take small steps to ensure that one day everyone who menstruates across India has access to sanitary products.
- Most of the problems can be tackled if awareness is created at the grass-root level. Awareness programs across districts in India can be conducted to debunk the myths and stereotypes related to menstruation, especially in the rural and village areas.
- A big step towards a better society would be one where we do not have to shy away from conversations relating to menstruation. When children ask about menstruation, they should be enlightened in an age-appropriate manner. Schools should also play an instrumental role in creating awareness and clearing any doubts that children may have.
- The Government needs to realise that sanitary products are essential to the health of the better half of the population. It is not a luxury product, and it should not be a privilege. Sanitary products should be readily and equally accessible, free of cost to those who need it. When the government compromises on the accessibility of sanitary products, it’s also compromising on the health of menstruating people.
The UN Human Rights office recognizes the “stigma around menstruation and menstrual hygiene is a violation of several human rights, most importantly of the right to human dignity” that must be overcome. Adequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene need to be recognized as rights in India and provisions have to be made to make sure that every citizen has access to them. Worshipping Goddesses in temples and homes is meaningless if humanity fails to preserve the dignity of it’s own kind.
|| By Shruti Menon ||