Addressing menstrual health in India

Advaitesha Birla, Founder, Ujaas highlights that one of the primary challenges in menstrual health is the pervasive lack of knowledge. Despite the substantial number of menstruating women in the country, discussions about menstruation are seldom initiated, even within nuclear families

The topic of menstruation, a universal and biological reality, remains ensconced in silence and societal taboos across India. Despite concerted efforts by the central and state governments, NGOs, and educational institutions, discussions around menstruation are often relegated to personal realms and mired in misinformation. This pervasive silence contributes to myriad challenges, making it imperative to reconsider the approach towards menstrual health on a broader scale. With an estimated 355 million menstruating women in India, addressing the persisting challenges necessitates a holistic and collaborative effort.

In the bettering menstrual health among the masses in India, the role of the government’s reach and schemes is undeniably crucial. However, bridging the gap between intention and effective delivery requires innovative solutions, and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) emerge as a powerful mechanism. The vast scale and multitude of beneficiaries pose a challenge for the government’s manpower and monitoring mechanisms.

Here, PPPs can step in, leveraging the efficiency and agility of private players to take charge of communities, areas, and localities. By aligning their goals with impactful outcomes, PPPs play a pivotal role in ensuring ground-breaking strides on the ground. The symbiotic relationship between the government’s vision and the dynamic capabilities of private partners creates a synergy that not only addresses the delivery gap but also paves the way for sustained progress and impact.

One of the primary challenges in menstrual health is the pervasive lack of knowledge. Despite the substantial number of menstruating women in the country, discussions about menstruation are seldom initiated, even within nuclear families. This informational gap is particularly pronounced in rural areas, where women may not be familiar with their reproductive cycles. According to UNICEF, a staggering 71 per cent of young girls were unaware of menstruation until they experienced their first period. This ignorance has tangible consequences, leading to the use of unsanitary materials, such as old rags, for protection in rural sectors, posing significant health risks.

The notion that menstruation is a taboo topic remains deeply ingrained in both rural and urban settings. Beyond mere secrecy, certain cultural practices exacerbate the challenges faced by menstruating women. Urban populations are not exempt from such beliefs, with restrictions on women entering kitchens or touching certain foods during their periods. In rural pockets, the existence of ‘period huts’ persists, where women are secluded from their families, often in uncomfortable and unsafe conditions. Public-private collaborations are better equipped to dismantle these taboos and work towards fostering a culture of openness and acceptance.

Menstruation is not a uniform experience, and many women grapple with premenstrual symptoms and health conditions like PCOD, PCOS, Dysmenorrhea, and Endometriosis. Unfortunately, these conditions often go untreated, resulting in prolonged physical and emotional stress for women. Initiatives that focus on destigmatising these health conditions and promoting accessible healthcare are crucial components of comprehensive menstrual health programs.

Access to affordable and sustainable menstrual products remains a significant hurdle, especially for lower-middle-class families. Traditional commercial pads, often the only option available, are expensive and contribute to environmental degradation due to their non-biodegradable nature. Public-private collaborations can play a pivotal role in making menstrual products accessible and environmentally sustainable. Options like reusable cloth pads can be promoted as cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives, providing adequate awareness and training.

Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort, and PPPs offer a strategic framework for collaboration between national and state governments, NGOs, civil society, academia, and the private sector. A critical first step is initiating open and informed dialogues on menstrual health. PPPs can facilitate the organisation of awareness camps, educational programs, and school-level discussions. The government and private organisations must contribute resources and funds to raise awareness about the biological aspects of menstruation, its societal implications, and the importance of de-stigmatisation.

PPPs can address the issue of access by providing clean and healthy menstrual products in rural areas either for free or at subsidised costs. Simultaneously, efforts must focus on eliminating ‘period poverty’ by empowering women through training workshops to manufacture low-cost, locally produced options like cloth pads. This approach not only ensures accessibility but also promotes self-sufficiency. One of the critical challenges is the lack of sustainable menstrual products. PPPs can drive the development and distribution of environmentally friendly options, including menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads. Training programs can further empower women to manufacture these products locally, fostering economic independence.

Collaborations are needed to develop menstrual-friendly infrastructure in homes, educational institutions, workplaces, and public spaces. PPPs can facilitate partnerships that ensure the creation of clean and private toilets, proper waste disposal systems, and handwashing facilities, thereby addressing hygiene concerns. Efficient supply chains and distribution networks are needed to ensure consistent availability of menstrual hygiene products across various regions.

Stitching an understanding with local retailers, pharmacies, and online platforms can facilitate easy access to these products. PPPs can be crucial in implementing systems within public facilities to ensure uninterrupted access to menstrual hygiene products, as such partnerships would involve developing efficient public procurement and logistics systems.

Addressing environmental concerns, PPPs can collaborate to develop and implement systems for environmentally friendly menstrual waste management, minimising potential health and environmental hazards. Targeted awareness campaigns, supported by partnerships, are essential to debunk myths, provide accurate information, and address social and gender-related challenges associated with menstruation. These campaigns can catalyse cultural shifts and increase acceptance.

In conclusion, transforming the menstrual health landscape in India requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort. PPPs are not just a need but a necessity in mitigating the challenges surrounding menstruation. By pooling resources, expertise, and innovative solutions, these collaborations can break the silence, eliminate taboos, and usher in a new era where menstrual health is prioritised and destigmatised. It is a collective journey with a long road ahead, but with the right initiatives and sustained commitment, we can reshape the narrative and empower women nationwide.

health newshealth policymenstrual healthPPPswomen's health
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