Divyang Waghela, Head, Tata Water Mission, Tata Trusts speaks on the importance of menstrual hygiene and how spreading awareness can help bust myths on menstruation
Menstruation is a natural, biological phenomenon that is crucial to a woman’s health. However, the culture of silence and shame that is attached with menstruation is responsible for not just a complete ignorance of the subject, but the perpetuation of many myths associated with it. This is in addition to inadequate knowledge of essential hygiene practices to be maintained during menses. According to a study by Van Ejik in 2016, 52 per cent of adolescent girls were unaware of menstruation prior to menarche; 45 per cent of adolescent girls did not consider menstruation as normal; and 77 per cent of them were unaware that uterus was the source of bleeding.
Need of the hour
To address this, it is important that we impart knowledge, ensure adoption of best practices by facilitating trainings around menstrual hygiene to change behaviours of adolescent girls, and women; reinforced by a supportive socio-cultural environment. While the goal must be to change perceptions around menstruation as well as inequitable gender norms and practices such that prejudice and parti pris play no part in this exercise, it is also important to increase the reporting of, and seeking cures for, urogenital infections of reproductive or urinary tract.
Space for open dialogue
Given the ground realities, it is imperative that we educate adolescent girls, and provide them with accurate information about menstruation. This can be done through easily digestible modules, and capacity building of peer mentors and teachers in schools.
The Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) programme of the Tata Water Mission (TWM), an initiative of Tata Trusts, works in this area through carefully curated modules using a variety of information, education and communication (IEC) tools and participatory processes. These include creating a safe space for women and adolescent girls, where MHM Sakhis encourage them to speak openly about menstruation. These modules remove the shame surrounding puberty, and help them understand that this is a natural, biological process that is a part of growing up. They are also taught about pre-menstrual syndrome and menopause to understand what is happening in their bodies, and to learn how best to equip themselves to deal with changes like lethargy, mood swings, food cravings, etc.
The social behavioural change communication (SBCC) processes of the programme focus on nudging key behavioural motives of an individual, as well as the community, to ensure adoption of improved practices in a sustainable manner. Use of region specific art forms, and other digital mediums have been effective in conveying messages on better MHM practices.
It is crucial to have an open dialogue about menstruation, and encourage girls to question age-old myths and practices logically. Equally crucial is the need to rationalise the importance of understanding why they do what they do, so that they can make an informed decision about which practice to follow. The participatory processes focus on how they can break the stigma in their own minds, and normalise menstruation by encouraging conversations with their mothers, peers, and sisters.
Sensitising the males
Young boys and men – the other half of the arc – need to be sensitised. To encourage them to extend socio-cultural support to the women in their lives, young boys and men need to be provided with accurate information about puberty; reproductive cycles of both males and females; made aware of the natural aspects of the biological processes in a human body. The school and community modules of TWM’s programme not only focus on making them comfortable with this subject but orient them with how best they can lend their support to the women in their families.
Use of hygiene kits
One of the key features of the programme is to hold discussions around menstrual hygiene products. These include compostable sanitary napkins, cloth pads, menstrual cups, and tampons. The MHM modules include sessions with groups of women and adolescent girls wherein the cost of each product, along with its pros and cons, is detailed to the group, so they can make an informed decision. These sessions not only help demystify myths, but also teach them to manage a healthy menstrual cycle through adoption of hygienic practices like washing and drying of cloth pads in the sunlight, changing absorbents at regular intervals of 4-6 hours, etc.
Reach so far
The Tata Water Mission, through its Menstrual Hygiene Management programme, has reached out to more than 60,000 adolescent girls and women, across seven states, providing end-to-end solutions to the communities. The mission aims to cover more than 250,000 adolescent girls and women under the programme by 2021.