When Deepa (name changed), a 15-year-old girl from Polasara village of Cuttack district, got her first period she was frightened and shocked. She had no idea why she was bleeding and hesitated to disclose that to her mother. But after she eventually did, her mother tore a piece of cloth from her old saree and guided her how to use it.
She asked her mother why she was bleeding and was told, “This happens because women accumulate bad blood in their bodies that must flow out every month. You are a grown up girl now and are ready for marriage and bearing children. Now listen…”
Her mother then gave her a list of things not to do during those five days:
- sleeping on the mattress with her siblings
- movement to any corner of the house and sitting anywhere
- entry to the kitchen
- eating food in regular utensils with everyone together
- visit to village temple
- participating in social gatherings
- visiting the playground and schools, and so on….
The reasons shared induced mixed emotions in her, and she never got an opportunity to know them better. On one hand she was happy that she was now a grown-up girl and was ready for marriage, like her dolls. But at the same time knowing that women carry ‘bad blood’ that must come out every month, filled her with fear, guilt and shame. She could not talk with anyone about it. None of the reasons shared with her gave her a scientific understanding of the physiological changes that she was going through.
Deepa was using old clothes during periods till she received sanitary napkins through Khushi Scheme few months back. Her orientation on the safe usage and disposal of the sanitary pads, however, was no different from the orientation she received from her mother.
As per NFHS 2015-16 data, she is among 52.6% of menstruating girls and women in Odisha who do not use hygienic and safe methods of menstrual protection.
Her school conducted an awareness program on May 28 last year and she has understood the physiology behind menstruation but this one time event wasn’t enough to orient her and many others like her on Menstrual Hygiene and Management. Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed to highlight good menstrual hygiene as well as the challenges adolescent girls and women face due to menstruation. The date May 28 is chosen to highlight the average span of the menstrual cycle, which is 28 days and it lasts for about five days each month.
The objectives of Menstrual Hygiene Day are to:
- Address the challenges many women and girls face during their periods.
- Highlight the innovative solutions taken to address these challenges.
- Accelerate a global movement that identifies and supports the rights of girls and women.
- Engage in policy dialogue and advocate for the integration of menstrual hygiene management into international, national, and local policies and programs.
How many menstruating girls and women in Odisha use hygienic methods of menstrual protection?
Menstrual hygiene can be challenging for menstruating girls and women in regions where toilet facilities and clean water is often inadequate. Furthermore, conservative cultures make it difficult to discuss it openly. These limit adolescent girls and women to know the regular functions of their own body. This directly affects their education, health, and wellbeing.
A study conducted by Bhubaneswar-based civil society organisation Aaina found out that as many as 98% of girls experience negative emotions and feelings during their menarche. Some of them experienced physical difficulties such as stomach pain, fatigue, and irritation, making them think that they have developed serious diseases such as cancer. Furthermore, the first experience of menstruation brought numerous restrictions for most of the girls, including not going to school.
As per NFHS 2015-16, only 47% of menstruating women aged 15-24 years in the state use hygienic methods. More women in urban areas (70%) use hygienic methods compared to their rural peers (42.8%).
When it comes to types of menstrual protection, as high as 69.1% still use cloth and only 33.5% use sanitary napkins.
The report also found out that education is also important. Use of hygienic methods of protection increases with years of schooling. More than 76% women with minimum 12 years of schooling use hygienic methods of protection. Whereas, only 12% of women with no schooling use hygienic methods.
What needs to be done to create awareness on Menstrual Hygiene?
Many adolescent girls in Odisha, especially in rural areas, are still not aware about menstruation-related issues and how to maintain personal hygiene during periods. They do not get a suitable forum to discuss such issues or get information.
As per the study by Aaina, a majority of adolescent girls had no idea about the knowledge on the cause of menstruation. When asked about it, over 50% of them said that it was the outflow of ‘bad blood’.
The recommendations from the study primarily included the following:
- Awareness on MHM and SRH rights will help the adolescent girls and the community access the benefits available for their health and nutrition in a more effective manner and improve their overall health and wellbeing.
- Engaging with adolescent boys and men will make them more aware of the MHM and SRH needs of the women population
- According to the MHM guidelines, the schools must have separate toilets for girls available for girls during school hours with systems for menstrual waste management in place.
- Engaging with the duty bearers will help them become more responsive to the needs of adolescent girls and girls with disability.
- Menstrual taboos and practices need to be discussed and awareness must be created among adolescent girls, boys, and families.
The theme of the Menstrual Hygiene Day 2020 is ‘It’s Time for Action’, which highlights the need for concerted efforts to change the social norms surrounding menstruation. It is time to spread awareness on the good menstrual hygiene and the use of hygienic and safe methods.