In many cultures, wisdom on how to manage periods is passed from mother to daughter. When young girls start their first menstrual cycle, their mothers advise them how to manage menstruation using appropriate menstrual products. In addition, girls in many countries receive health education as part of their school curriculum. They are taught about the physical changes they will experience and often given free samples of sanitary products.
But is this the same for everyone?
According to the BBC, only 36% of India’s 355 million menstruating females use sanitary napkins. 71% of adolescent girls are unaware of menstruation until they themselves start to menstruate. Millions of households are not able to afford menstrual hygiene products. This can lead to girls dropping out of school for practical reasons and because they fear being mocked by their classmates.
For some women, being on a period involves an uncomfortable few days, but with emotional support, cultural acceptance, education and access to menstrual products, women’s lives continue much as usual when they are menstruating.
Unfortunately, for others, menstruation can bring with it a cultural stigma of impureness as well as distress and embarrassment arising from limited knowledge and from lack of menstrual products to manage their flow.
Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products due to financial constraints. This is a widely acknowledged issue in sections of society in the UK and other European countries. Access to menstrual products and appropriate education, and the provision of hygienic spaces, are increasingly being recognised as rights that needs to be protected.
So, what steps can be taken to improve the situation for girls and women in India and other countries where so many girls and women lack access to these basic requirements?
Probably the most important step is to get rid of the taboos. Active campaigns can do this, and the engagement of governments can address part of the issue by providing menstrual products in school. Organizations such as the UN Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF), formerly the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, are in the process of improving sanitation for the most vulnerable places and raising awareness of the importance of good menstrual hygiene management.
Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that should belong to every person in the world.
Safe, hygienic, stigma-free menstruation is a human right that must be secured for all.
Credits- Soomin Yoo
Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash