Ground Reality of Menstrual Hygiene In India

From menarche until menopause, adolescents and women experience the natural, normal biological process of menstruation; the total number of days they have menstruation during this time equals nearly seven years of their life.

More than 800 million women in the world between the ages of 15 and 49 are bleeding at any given time. Menstruation continues to be a taboo topic, cloaked in secret, suppressed by silence and shame, regardless of the scale at which it occurs. As a result, there isn't much debate or engagement about it at the individual, family, and community levels.

It is difficult to overcome sociocultural obstacles since they are deeply ingrained and appear to carry societal consequences.

A woman’s issue

Breaking the sociocultural barriers is not easy as these norms are deep-rooted and seem to have social sanctions. The social norms that periods are impure and make girls and women unclean have added stigma and led to their social isolation during their menstruation. This also prevents them from accessing services even if they have a health issue related to periods.

It is also considered a ‘woman’s issue,’ thus boys and men are not included in any discussions around menstruation and they feel that they have no role in this. The fact that mothers act as the first point of contact for imparting knowledge on menstruation for the majority of girls; is critical from a programming point of view.

Journey of Menstrual Hygiene Management in India

Late eighties and through the nineties

  • Silence around menstruation
  • Limited access to health facilities
  • Choices in menstrual products were limited
  • Not on the government agenda

From 2000 to 2005 

  • MHM issues started getting attention
  • NGO initiated campaigns to create awareness around menstruation
  • Development of training and learning materials around menstruation
  • International agencies started focusing on this subject

From 2005 to 2010

  • Turing point for MHM with increased focus and interventions
  • Launch of National Rural Health Mission 
  • ASHAs made responsible for MHM
  • Variety of reusable products designed 
  • Self Help Groups (SHGs) started manufacturing napkins
  • Low-cost disposable sanitary products became

From 2010 to the present 

  • NGOs implementing awareness and training programs 
  • Installation of pad-making units in a few states in India 
  • Government’s initiatives like Nirmal Bharat Yatra 
  • Prioritization of Sanitary Napkins under RMNCH+A through RKSK program 
  • Sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators being promoted under Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan 

Is sustainable menstruation the way forward?

Sustainable menstruation, often referred to as eco-friendly or green menstruation, is gaining popularity as a more environmentally conscious approach to managing menstruation. This approach emphasizes reducing the ecological and social impacts associated with traditional disposable menstrual products like tampons and sanitary pads. Sustainable menstruation options include reusable menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear, which can be washed and reused for an extended period of time.

Here are some reasons why sustainable menstruation is considered a way forward:

  1. Environmental Benefits: Traditional disposable menstrual products generate a significant amount of waste. It's estimated that a person can use thousands of pads and tampons over their lifetime, contributing to landfill waste. Sustainable options reduce this waste and the associated environmental impact.

  2. Cost-Effective: While sustainable menstrual products may have a higher upfront cost, they can be cost-effective in the long run because they can last for several years. This can save individuals money over time compared to constantly buying disposable products.

  3. Health Considerations: Some people prefer sustainable options because they often involve materials that are less likely to contain harmful chemicals, fragrances, or allergens that can cause skin irritation or discomfort.

  4. Empowerment: Sustainable menstruation encourages individuals to become more aware of their bodies and menstrual cycles, fostering a sense of empowerment and a deeper connection with their own health.

  5. Accessibility and Equity: Sustainable menstruation options can be a more sustainable choice for individuals in low-resource settings or areas with limited access to disposable menstrual products, promoting equity in menstrual health.

However, it's important to note that sustainable menstruation may not be the best choice for everyone. Personal preferences, lifestyle, comfort, and individual circumstances can all influence the choice of menstrual products. Moreover, sustainable options require proper cleaning and maintenance, which may not be feasible for everyone.

Ultimately, the way forward in menstrual health and hygiene will likely involve a combination of approaches, including sustainable menstruation options, improved access to affordable and safe menstrual products, comprehensive menstrual education, and destigmatization of menstruation