'Menstrual hygiene needs as much attention as providing toilets'

Lack of separate toilets major reason for girls dropping out of school on achieving puberty, point pout civil society groups

The Indian government has a programme for providing toilets to each household, but little attention has been paid to another pressing matter of equal concern—menstrual hygiene. With 335 million girls and women in the reproductive age, menstrual hygiene management, or MHM, is an urgent need to be addressed in the country. But taboos attached with menstrual cycle are a major hurdle in efforts towards MHM.

On World Menstrual Hygiene Day on Wednesday, activists, civil society groups and corporates came together to discuss matters related to awareness and innovations in the field. Assessments show that reproductive tract infections are 70 per cent more common among women who use unhygienic materials during menstruation. The taboo to talk about “periods” and lack of girls toilets in schools leads to an astounding 30 per cent drop out of girls upon reaching puberty.

“Right now India is seeing a movement for toilets for each house. But menstrual hygiene is not a part of it. We should make an effort for the same,” said Lakshmi Murthy of WaterAid. She said women are forced to put used sanitary pads in crevices of toilets or throw in places meant for some other use due to the taboo attached. “We cannot ask women to use menstrual products hygienically unless we come to a stage where we can talk about it openly and confidently,” she said.

Environment-friendly sanitary pads 
Emphasising the need to innovate environment friendly sanitary pads, Anshu Gupta, founder of non-profit Goonj, said: “It does not need a cutting edge technology, but simple methods.” Goonj produces cloth-based sanitary pads and engage with communities to spread awareness about MHM. “We need to have products which are comfortable for people and at the same time are environment friendly. In my travels, I find that requirement of women in Punjab is different than that of Bihar. We need to make products after understanding local needs,” he said.

Participants questioned the role of sanitary pad manufacturers, too. “Even the cotton-filled pads produced by the corporates have materials not conducive to environment. Right now only the urban women use these pads. If we reach every woman with these pads, how will we manage waste generated thus?” asked Gupta. These companies were also questioned for making products that cause skin rashes on users.

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