There are an estimated 800 million people around the world who are of menstruating age.
Menstruation is a regular and very normal natural biological process, however in some countries in the world periods are still considered to be dirty and are cloaked in myths, misconceptions and ill-informed ideas. This wide-spread misunderstanding leads to unsafe, dangerous menstrual hygiene solutions and additional harmful diseases and lifestyle compromises. This unfortunately is too often the case in many parts of India.
SANITATION IN INDIA AROUND PERIODS
Sanitation is one of the biggest problems for menstruating women. We take it for granted multiple times a day that we can go to the washroom, flush the toilet & wash our hands with clean running water & soap. This isn’t always the case in India. It is estimated 63 million adolescent menstruators in India do not have access to a toilet in their homes. Without a clean and private space to change their menstrual products, girls are much less likely to carefully and properly manage their own menstrual protection and hygiene.
It is estimated that 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Women are commonly using dirty fabric rags, old clothes pieces and even newspapers and leaves as replacements for sanitary pads. Even rags that are cleaned can still develop bacteria if not dried or stored properly.
CULTURAL TABOOS AROUND MENSTRUATION IN INDIA
Menstruation in India is regularly seen as a shameful and embarrassing conversation. Despite it being a monthly occurrence in over half of the Indian population, it is not discussed or even well understood or known about. It is estimated from studies that 71% of girls have no understanding of menstrual health before their first period. There is no set curriculum in schools for girls or boys, so the cultural misunderstandings continue through generations.
Through the Netflix documentary, Period. It was seen that women can’t go to the temple and pray during their periods, leading to the understanding that, ‘God doesn’t hear our prayers during this time’
Young boys aren’t taught about it and can be led to believe that it’s an ‘illness that only happens to girls’. As these cultural misunderstandings continue through the generations there is no opportunity for this taboo around periods being broken down, without educating the male and female population about the truth and understanding of periods.
INDIAN EDUCATION ON PERIOD
On average menstruating girls miss six days of class each month due to the shame surrounding their periods or a lack of sanitary products, often using rags or fabrics that are inadequate protection, causing embarrassing stains or no protection at all. Equally, without proper education on menstruation for both the girls and boys in schools, it is a regular occurrence that girls will drop out of their schooling after one year or less of menstruating. It is estimated that each year 23% of girls will drop out of school, due to embarrassment, lack of convenient form of protection and without private facilities to be able to comfortably change. They are having to leave school to do so during their school day, and are forced to change in front of men & boys, feeling that ‘it’s embarrassing’ and too much hassle, and easier for them to drop out of school. Unfortunately this then stunts their learning and career potential, resulting in many of them becoming child brides.
PERIOD PROTECTION ACCESSIBILITY & COST IN INDIA
Disposable pads are stocked and available in India, however the cost is incredibly high making the expense of menstrual protection products one of the biggest prohibitive factors. The average Indian woman needs 300 rupees ($4.20) per month for menstrual products. For low-income households the cost of sanitary pads is often unattainable. In 2017, the Indian government labelled menstrual products as luxury goods. Quickly after the announcement of the new tax, the public gathered to campaign against it. In July of 2018, the government removed the tax, making sanitary products more accessible to low-income households. However for many households they are still an expense they can’t afford.
When families are living in poor conditions, the choice of either food or sanitary protection, it's no contest, leaving the period protection up to old rags and dirty fabrics, leading to potential future infections and illnesses.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO BREAK PERIOD TABOO IN INDIA
With all of these conflicting factors amongst the Indian menstrual education and awareness, there is a long way to go to improve this situation. However, many charities and non-profit organisations are working hard to bring supplies and education to the menstruating population in India.
Following the Netflix documentary 'Period'. Pad machines were installed in communities to not only give communities access to healthy sanitary protection, but also to give local women jobs with the machines to produce the pads and distribute them. PadProject.org continue to work in underprivileged communities across India, as well as other countries, to improve sanitation, educate the communities and slowly, bring down the stigma of the period taboo.