There should be absolutely no reason for a girl to drop out of school when she attains puberty. That a girl has to totally give up schooling or miss classes because she is undergoing a normal biological process defies all logic.
Rough estimates suggest 23% girls in India drop-out of schools annually on reaching puberty annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities including non-availability of sanitary pads and awareness of menstruation.
In a growing economy like India, it is unacceptable that a majority of the women have to use cloth – some even polythene—as absorbent just because they cannot afford a sanitary napkin or do not have access to it. In India, there are 336 million women in the reproductive age group who lack mechanisms and means to meet their menstrual needs. Shame and stigma associated with menstruation makes things even more difficult for young women to talk about it.
According to Dasra, a not-for-profit organisation based out of Mumbai, 52% of all girls have no knowledge about menstruation and how to manage it when they have their first period. Often, it is the mother who informs her daughter about menstruation instead of a health worker.
Mother’s advice and information comes with lot of traditional myths and beliefs.
Only 12% of Indian women can afford commercially available sanitary napkin which is generally the only product they have access to manage their periods. The National Family and Health Survey-4 data suggests only 62% women in India use some hygienic absorbent. Only 42% women use sanitary napkins while 16% use locally made napkins. This number of women using sanitary napkins goes up with the levels of education and wealth quintile with more educated and richer women four times more likely to use a sanitary napkin.
Poor menstrual hygiene management could result in serious urinary and reproductive tract infections with serious implications in the long run. Using a clean cloth is an alternative but this needs to be washed properly and dried in sunlight which most women are unable to do. If a cloth is dried in damp places, there is every possibility of germs and bacteria thriving on it. Women, particularly those in the rural settings and urban slums, are also unable to maintain hygiene because there are no toilets and even if there, there is no water. Proper disposal is another major concern.
Hence, to overcome all these barriers it is important that stigma and shame around menstruation be shunned. Menstruation is like any normal biological and physiological process of the body and needs to be treated like one. If family and community have a role to play in creating awareness about the issue, it is also important that low cost sanitary napkins be made available to girls and women to ensure hygiene. These should be made available at schools, public places and work place. The more we talk about it, the more it gets talked about.
If HIV/AIDS is no more a stigma, why should menstruation be!