Even in the 21st century, there still remain barriers to good menstrual hygiene. Even today, a great majority of women and girls in South Asia and Africa continue to lack access to menstrual hygiene products. Apart from this, there still continues to remain age-old cultural taboos and stigmatization.
Worse still, in most nations, especially low-income ones, menstruation is not even a topic to be talked about publicly or even to be included as a part of a national dialogue. Yet, at the same time, women and girls are expected to adhere to proper menstrual hygiene. As per the latest UNICEF study report, improper awareness about menstrual hygiene has forced around 23% of the girls in India to drop out of school altogether, after they started to menstruate.
There are three main barriers to good menstrual hygiene – lack of proper awareness, lack of proper acceptance, and lack of proper access.
HANDLING BARRIERS TO GOOD MENSTRUAL HYGIENE
Barriers to good menstrual hygiene can be tackled with appropriate measures put in place, involving the coordination of various stakeholders.
Like for instance,
- Reducing the impact of cultural taboos and stigmatization connected with menstruation. This deeply affects women and girls in the developing as well as developed nations, albeit in different ways. In Nepal, a developing nation, menstruating women and girls are stigmatized and barred from their homes and compelled to spend their period duration in cowsheds or isolated makeshift huts. Likewise, in developed nations like the UK, Germany, and the US, women and girls feel embarrassed by their periods, and in 25% cases, they cannot even ask in open permission for attending to their menstruation-related issues, as a result of which they are compelled to find some other reasons for permission to attend to their menstrual issues. In addition, women and girls in these nations in many cases, feel uncomfortable in talking about their menstrual issues in front of other men. To tackle these incidences, proper education is the need of the hour. Both women and men need to be sensitized about the issue and made aware that it is something that is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Ensuring sufficient and proper infrastructure for women and girls to manage their menstruation with dignity. Too often inadequate facilities, especially in public places, have been a major obstacle, in preventing women and girls from practicing healthy menstrual hygiene. By proper infrastructure, it is meant adequate number of well-maintained toilets, with the requisite menstrual products like soap, etc, and water facility. This will allow women and girls to practice good menstrual hygiene and manage their periods, in privacy with safety and dignity.
- Ensuring adequate access to menstrual products. This is a problem faced by poorer women and girls in both developed and developing nations. For instance, in India and Kenya, women and girls face lot of hurdles to properly access menstrual products, as a result of which a majority of them are not even able to afford menstrual products. Likewise, around 40% of the women and girls in the US and Western Europe, have had to do with toilet paper as a menstrual item due to their inability to afford proper menstrual products. This issue can be tackled only through the coordinated efforts of the Governments, NGOs, and Media. When this is done, it will not only help in ensuring sufficient number of menstrual products but also in properly educating poorer women and girls about the benefits of using proper menstrual products and where from they can be had. If the women and girls are still unable to access them, then NGOs can take up the task of door-to-door delivery and at the same time, also educate how best they should be used.
- Creating better awareness among women and girls about the benefits of using menstrual products. Too often, women and girls, especially in the developing nations, are unaware about the presence of menstrual products and even where present, not aware about the benefits of using them. For instance, around 64% of girls in India are unaware about menstruation before their first period. This issue is also prevalent in the US and Germany, where around 30% of girls have limited knowledge about menstrual products before their first period. As a result of which they are not prepared to handle the effects of menstruation. The issue can be tackled only with proper education on a mass scale. Sensitized educators can be roped in to support and guide the girls who are not acquainted with menstrual hygiene management on how to practice them. Disseminating proper information can educate these girls about the benefits of menstrual hygiene with menstrual products.
In a huge nation like India, barriers to good menstrual hygiene can be tackled only collectively, which means through the coordination of various stakeholders, like the Governments, NGOs, Corporates, Media, and the Entertainment industry. Each stakeholder can supplement the other with their resources, and capabilities. This will scale the whole process and help in not only properly handling the barriers to good menstrual hygiene but also in eliminating them altogether. India has successfully shown that in recent years, and has succeeded in drastically reducing the barriers.
- Governments play the most critical role. Because of their extensive reach and powers invested in them, they have the clout to get things done. They also have the advantage of efficiencies of scale and the machinery within the system which can create a mass-scale impact. The Government of India in the past few years has taken tremendous initiatives in prioritizing menstrual hygiene. In coordination with NGOs and Corporates, the Central Government and State Governments can go further. They can jointly pool their resources and launch a mass-scale program on menstrual hygiene management.
- Corporates with their money and resource powers have the ability to influence society for the better. Leveraging their enormous capabilities, they can launch programs to educate the masses to break the societal taboos. A campaign launched on period taboos can generate good impact and spark positive conversations. The Corporates can also increase access to good menstrual hygiene by working with local suppliers and in the process create a robust supply chain that will ensure consistent availability of affordable reusable menstrual hygiene products, within the reach of poorer women and girls. Likewise, they can also launch a mass education campaign targeted at women and girls as well as men and boys, about menstruation, and the benefits of using quality reusable menstrual products. This way, they can help break the chain of stigma associated with menstruation.
- NGOs and influencers like celebrities, sportspersons, etc, can play the role of positive enablers. They can mobilize communities and create change at a grassroots level. They have the power of resources, money, and image that can be channelized positively to reach out to poorer women and girls and bring about a change of habits in the communities.
- Media and entertainment industry, with their reach and money clout, can influence society and act as a catalyst for breaking the barriers to good menstrual hygiene.
When all of the above stakeholders can come together, they can work wonders. Synergizing their unique strengths, they can work towards a common goal – that is breaking the barriers to good menstrual hygiene.