For decades, adolescent girls in India, have struggled with the topic of menstruation and the taboo attached to it. This fairly widespread but unacknowledged problem has resulted in many girls to miss or drop out of schools and remain at home feeling victimized for something which is natural and part of their womanhood.
According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, more than 300 million women and girls in India, do not have access to safe menstrual hygiene products. The inaccessibility curtails them from attaining education, endangering their health and putting livelihoods at risk. At least 23 % of girls leave school once they start menstruating, and the rest miss an average of five days during their monthly period.
While the lack of awareness is shocking, what is worse is the social stigma and 'silence' attached to it. The deep seated taboo around menstruation, rife in rural areas, forces the mothers to not discuss about it openly with their daughters or even among themselves. It is perceived as a "hidden" thing, where women are considered as "untouchables' or "dirty" during their monthly period. The psychological trauma associated with this fear and silence, impacts the routine life of a girl where she is often restricted from attending schools or even from entering the house kitchen to take food.
For a girl, stepping into puberty should be perceived as something of a celebration, instead they are stigmatized into believing that menstruation is unnatural and shameful and that they should be embarrassed about it.
Awareness - Solutions
It is not surprising to note that many girls in India didn't know what a menstrual period was before they had their first one. Most of them resorted to using cloths instead of sanitary napkins, and many wonder why it happens.
The first step towards improved menstrual hygiene is the acceptance of this natural process and removal of any superstitious stigma attached to it so that not only girls but even their family can discuss about it without feeling of shame or embarrassment.
Most often than not, the unavailability of low cost sanitary products at rural communities forces the girls to use unhygienic materials like cloth or newspapers instead of clean sanitary napkins. Increasing the provisions of safe sanitary products at village levels and educating the masses about their proper use, is the key to increased awareness about this issue.
Campaigns and talks should be encouraged at school levels, which will help in breaking the silence to promote a positive change around sanitation practices in India.
An initiative in this direction, supported by the Government of India , has been pioneered by the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, also known as the Great WASH Yatra. This program, comprising a travelling group of people, has started a one of a kind attempt at promoting safe health guidelines at community level and strives to finding solutions collectively.
Though the initiative is praiseworthy, I feel there should be similar campaigns at every community, block and rural school levels. Many young girls have benefited from this program and learnt to finally talk about this issue openly but there are many others who still suffer in silence.
We cannot allow more girls to be discriminated or embarrassed based on outdated beliefs or lack of knowledge. It takes years to change a taboo, therefore the best way to keep our girls in schools is to change our mindset about this natural process so that girls can build a better and healthier future for themselves and for the coming generations.Girls Transform the World 2013