What is Menstruation?
Menstruation is a natural biological process experienced by all adolescent girls and women every month, starting between 11 and 14 years age and continue till menopause at about age 51. On any day, more than 800 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating, yet it is the most neglected health issue, resulting in adverse health outcomes.
Ability to manage menstrual hygiene is fundamental to well being of women, and it constitutes the essential component of basic hygiene, sanitation and reproductive health services. However, poor awareness of hygiene practices, unscientific attitude, myths and misconceptions adversely affect women menstrual health and social lives.
The taboo surrounding this issue also prevents girls and women to articulate their needs and problems regarding menstrual health management. Equipping adolescent girls with adequate information on menstrual hygiene and its management helps in enhancing self-esteem and positively impacts their performance.
So, let’s talk about menstrual hygiene and management in detail.
What is menstrual hygiene and health?
WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (JMP) defines menstrual health management as, “Women and adolescent girls are 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”.
However, menstrual health is a broad term that includes both menstrual health management and other systemic factors that link menstruation with health, gender equality, well-being, education, empowerment, equity and rights.
Why does menstrual hygiene matters?
Globally, at least 500 million women and girls lack proper access to menstrual hygiene facilities, as per the data published by The World Bank.
According to a menstrual hygiene management guidelines published by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation – Government of India, “ About 113 million adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable at the onset of menarche in India”.
Maintaining good hygiene during menstruation is of pivotal importance, especially in terms of increased vulnerability of reproductive tract infections. Therefore, it is imperative to recognise the importance of menstrual health and hygiene in women health.
What are the health risks associated with poor menstrual hygiene management?
Poor menstrual hygiene management practices such as inadequate protection, insufficient washing facilities may increase susceptibility to infection and may put girls at risk of being stigmatized.
During menstruation, women are more vulnerable to the risk of infection (including sexually transmitted infection). Use of unhygienic materials to absorb menstrual blood can also cause vaginal infections and long-term effects on reproductive health
Various health risks associated with poor menstrual management are explained as follow:
HOW TO FACILITATE PROPER MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MANAGEMENT?
Proper menstrual hygiene management can be encouraged using three facilitators:
Enhancing individual knowledge and social awareness
In low and middle-income counties, there is very limited education in schools regarding menstruation. Teachers are hesitant and unwilling to discuss menstrual hygiene due to taboo. Receiving comprehensive knowledge about menstruation and its management interventions with positive attitudes can make a lasting difference to the lives of every adolescent girl and woman.
Awareness can also be enhanced by comprehensive sexuality education and training. It is integral to include teachers, health workers, men and boys in training and education to increase their understanding and support. It will help to challenge existing socio-cultural taboos and discriminatory practices around menstruation.
Every year, Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed on 28th of May, to bring together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls.
Providing adequate menstrual hygiene management choices
Adequate menstrual hygiene management does not only involve access to basic sanitation facilities but also menstrual absorbents. Every girl and women should be known about various material absorbents used along with their pros and cons. Efforts should be made to increase access to hygiene options.
Along with access to hygiene options, they must follow regular vaginal health practices such as changing sanitary napkin every 4-6 hours and using vaginal hygiene products. Vaginal hygiene products such as a potent vaginal wash helps to maintain vaginal flora and also reduces the risk of infections.
The table below explains the various types of menstrual absorbents used with their advantages and disadvantages
Safe disposal of menstrual waste
It is essential to consider safe menstrual waste disposal strategies and ensure that every girl and women should use it. Safe disposal means ensuring disposal without human contact and with minimum environmental pollution.
Disposal in open defecation fields, river and ponds should be avoided. The appropriate option for disposal also depends on the amount and type of materials, and environmental considerations.
The following table describes the various types of disposal options recommended for different materials used:
In some areas, where incinerators facilities are not available, burning in a deep pit is recommended
Last but not least, good management of menstrual hygiene needs private sanitation facilities. Insufficient private sanitation facilities may discourage women from joining workplaces and girls from attending schools.
Therefore, girls and women must have proper access to water and sanitation facilities. They need a safe, hygienic and private space to change sanitary materials with adequate water and safe disposal facilities.
A WORD OF THOUGHT
Educating girls about menstruation facts, physiologic implications, significance and proper menstrual hygiene practices is the need of the hour. It is also required to break their inhibitions about traditional beliefs, misconceptions and restrictions.
Inclusion of sex education in schools, focus group discussions, and mass media campaigns can be helpful to overcome the taboo aspect of menstruation. Along with society, all mothers should be encouraged to discussing menstruation and menstrual hygiene with their daughters.
Practice these menstrual hygiene tips and stay healthy!