Every woman experiences menstruation after puberty. It is a natural biological process. Yet the conversations around menstruation and menstrual hygiene are in hush-hush voices. Lack of a separate and usable girl’s toilet in schools and public places and a toilet at home leave adolescent girls and women to face the indignity of open defecation. However, safe and effective menstrual hygiene management is a trigger for better and stronger development for adolescent girls and women.
Some Terms You Should Know
Menarche: The first occurrence of menstruation
Menopause: The time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods stop and she is no longer
able to have children
Menstruation or monthly periods: A biological process in a woman where each month blood and other material is discharged from the lining of the uterus. It occurs from the onset of puberty until menopause, except during pregnancy.
Menstrual Hygiene: The articulation, awareness, information, and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity using safe hygienic materials together with adequate water and agents and spaces for washing and bathing with soap and disposal of used menstrual absorbents with privacy and dignity.
Menstrual absorbents: Products such as pads, cloths, tampons, or cups, that catch the blood discharged. The material absorbs the flow of blood from her vagina
Menstrual waste: This includes a used sanitary cloth, napkin, towel, or pad that contains blood
Hygiene and Menstruation
Menstrual Hygiene is an essential aspect of hygiene for women and adolescent girls between menarche and menopause. However, we need to understand that access to safe and dignified menstruation is a fundamental need for women and girls. We wish that there’s a world where every girl can learn, play, and safeguard her own health without experiencing stress, shame, or unnecessary barriers to information or supplies during menstruation. A growing evidence base from low- and middle-income countries shows that many girls are not able to manage their periods and associated hygiene with ease and dignity. This deprivation is even more acute for girls and women in emergencies. These girls and women cannot practice good menstrual health and hygiene at home, at school, at work, or in other public settings, due to a combination of discriminatory social environments, inaccurate information, poor facilities, and limited choice of absorbent materials.
We need to work to improve girls’ and women’s menstrual health and hygiene in four areas: social support, knowledge and skills, facilities and services, and access to absorbent materials and supportive supplies. About 75% of women and girls in high- and upper-middle-income countries use commercially produced products. While over half of women and girls in low-and-middle-income countries use homemade products.
Poor menstrual hygiene poses physical health risks and might lead to reproductive and urinary tract infections. Many girls and women have limited options for affordable menstrual materials. Providing access to private facilities with water and safer low-cost menstrual materials could reduce urogenital diseases.
Blood Absorbers Used While Menstruation
Globally, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services and in the least Developed Countries, only 27 percent of the population has a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. Managing periods at home is a major challenge for women and adolescent girls who lack these basic facilities at home.
About half of the schools in low-income countries lack adequate drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene crucial for girls and female teachers to manage their period. Inadequate facilities can affect girls’ experience at school, causing them to miss school during their period. All schools should provide running water, safe and clean toilets for adolescent girls.
Cloths are reusable pieces of fabric for external use. It is cheap and widely used in low-income countries. Proper washing and drying are crucial for safe use, though often difficult due to lack of privacy and stigma. This is not very safe. Hence, doctors do not recommend menstrual cloth. Their use can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, skin irritations, and urogenital infections.
These pads are for external use. They are of natural or synthetic materials. They are washed, dried, and reused for approximately one year. Their reviews are often as inconvenient in comparison to disposable pads. Proper washing and drying are crucial for safe use. There might be an association between urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis. And, the use of damp materials can lead to skin irritations. They are usable for a year. Thus produce significantly less solid waste than single-use, disposable materials. Reusable pads are generally cost-effective when annualized.
Disposable Sanitary Pads:
Sanitary pads are worn externally to the body. Their shelf life is a maximum of 8 hours. A large section of women uses disposable sanitary pads. As they are reliable, hygienic, comfortable, easy to use, and require no water for cleaning. This causes no significant adverse health effects. Though there is inconclusive evidence on the impact of disposable pad use and bacterial vaginosis, and reproductive tract infections especially in relation to prolonged wear time. They cause a lot of waste produces, as they are of one-time use. They accumulate in landfills, block sanitation systems when thrown in toilets, and release toxins when burned incorrectly.
Tampons are absorbent materials made from cotton and/or rayon that are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual flow. They expand with moisture and thereby avoid leakage. It has a shelf life of 8 hours, after which they are removed using the removal string, and disposed of. Tampons are often not available and are rare in low-income countries. Tampons are the least preferred. Girls and women often express fear of pain and the tampon getting stuck. Residual chemicals and fragrances can lead to allergic reactions. As these are used and throw absorbents, thus produce lots of waste. The flushing of tampons in toilets can lead to clogging of pipes, service disruption, and increased maintenance costs. Incorrect burning leads to the release of furans and toxins. Only tampons made from natural fibers are biodegradable, while those containing plastics remain in the environment.
It is a bell-shaped device that is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual flow. It is non-absorbent. The cup creates a seal and the walls of the vagina hold it in place. The main raw material is medical-grade silicone in making menstrual cups. It collects three times more blood than pads or tampons. After every 6-12 hours, the cups are emptied, rinsed, and re-inserted. The lifetime of the cups is between 5 to 10 years. They also release less waste. While cups require water for boiling, they need far less than reusable pads or cloths. It allows its user to safely handle menstruation without reoccurring costs for many years.
Myths Around Menstruation
A lack of information about menstruation leads to damaging misconceptions and discrimination and can cause girls to miss out on normal childhood experiences and activities, and also absenteeism from school. Stigma, taboos, and myths prevent adolescent girls and boys from the opportunity to learn about menstruation and develop healthy habits. There is a need to destigmatize the menstruation process because only then, the world will be able to improve menstrual hygiene.
Trivia On Menstruation
On average a woman menstruates for about 7 years during their lifetime. The first period is unique. It can be a reason for celebration, fear, or concern. For every girl, this signifies an important transition to womanhood, a time when they would benefit from the support of family and friends.
Many girls do not have a complete and accurate understanding of menstruation as a normal biological process. Educating girls before their first period and, importantly, boys on menstruation builds their confidence, contributes to social solidarity, and encourages healthy habits. Such information should be provided at home and school.
Moreover, specially-abled girls and women face more problems in terms of accessing toilets and products to manage their periods.
Many women and girls do not have access to materials to manage their menstruation, especially in times of emergency- natural disasters and conflicts.
Menstruation is can lead to disorders like Amenorrhea, abnormal uterine bleeding, Oligomenorrhea, Premenstrual syndrome, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, etc. Also, females may also face painful or irregular periods.
Many non-profits around the world are working with local communities, schools, and governments to research and provide information about menstruation, promote positive hygiene habits and break down taboos.
Sit and think why there is a stigma around the word ‘periods’?