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Menstrual Hygiene Day 2020: Awareness must start at school — here is why

As many as 7.4 percent of girls drop out of school between the age group of 11-14 years in India once they start menstruating

May 28, 2020 / 01:32 PM IST
A public toilet in rural Karnataka (Representative Image: Reuters)

A public toilet in rural Karnataka (Representative Image: Reuters)

An estimated 121 million girls and women in the country use an average of eight disposable (non-compostable) sanitary pads a month, a study by the Menstrual Health Alliance India has found.

In low-income countries across the world, girls and women’s choice of menstrual hygiene items is limited by cost, availability and social norms. Access to clean water, period products and proper sanitation infrastructure such as toilets and bathrooms are also cause for concern.

It is thus imperative that a culture of education, awareness and acceptance is created to deal with social stigmas and problems around access, right from the grassroots level.

To create a world in which every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame, where no woman or girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period. It is here that schools play an important part.

Poor menstrual hygiene caused by lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure undermines the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls around the world. As a result, millions of women and girls are kept from reaching their full potential.

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As many as 7.4 percent of girls drop out of school between the age group of 11-14 years in India once they start menstruating, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2018) found. A significant number also miss school days each month during their period – either due to societal pressures or lack of access to menstrual products.

Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia (Source: UNICEF) Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia (Source: UNICEF)

A UNICEF study titled ‘Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia’ found that:

> 52 percent of girls are unaware of menstruation

> 58 percent use hygienic protection (locally prepared pads, sanitary pads and tampons)

> 70 percent of mothers consider menstruation “dirty,” further perpetuating taboos

> Menstruating girls are asked to stay away from religious spaces, kept in isolation, not allowed to play outside, or go to school.

> Girls typically miss 1-2 days of school per month due to periods

> Several studies report that many girls do not change pads in school and that more girls would attend if better facilities existed

> The present national educational curriculum focuses on practical and biological aspects of menstruation and personal hygiene rather than MHM. There is a lack of information on psycho-social changes and reproductive health or skills-based hygiene education and low capacity among teachers/frontline staff on MHM.

These are existing politics, Standards, Guidelines and Legal frameworks

> The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) (2009) includes standards for drinking water and gender-separated sanitation facilities in schools. A 2011 Supreme Court directive to all states instructed them to prioritise separate toilets for girls and drinking water in schools.

> Menstrual Hygiene Scheme of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) for rural adolescent girls to enhance MH knowledge, improve hygiene practices, provide subsidised sanitary absorbents, and raise awareness of MHM at school.

> SABLA programme of Ministry of Women and Child Development focuses on nutrition, health, hygiene and reproductive and sexual health

> National Rural Livelihood Mission of the Ministry of Rural Development supports self-help groups and small manufacturers to produce sanitary pads.

> Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya (SB:SV) Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) includes guidelines for sanitation in schools and emphasises MHM facilities and awareness raising.

> MoDWS published the Menstrual Hygiene Management National Guidelines (2015), with UNICEF support. MoDWS has also developed Guidelines for Gender Issues in Sanitation (2017).

Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia (Source: UNICEF) Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia (Source: UNICEF)

This year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day theme is “It’s Time for Action!”

The goal should be to enable better school attendance and learning outcomes, greater mobility and opportunities, greater self-determination and well-being and a healthier and more confident adolescence.

Breaking the taboo starts with providing information – not only to those who menstruate, but also to men and boys to enable us all to talk freely about periods.

Period education in schools will also allow students – girls and boys – to openly discuss and learn about menstruation, acquire relevant information from trusted sources and become aware of normal bodily functions. Proper, unhindered access to information can contribute to individual’s health and dignity.

To do so the movement must be towards:

> Building the capacity of teachers and frontline workers

> Improving the quality and availability of age-appropriate/accessible MHM education materials in schools and building them into the curriculum.

> Improving the reach and quality of MH products and strengthening the supply use-disposal chain.

> Strengthening state-level planning for MHM programming and supporting better governmental coordination and monitoring.

Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) was initiated by the German non-profit WASH United in 2013. It is a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls.
Moneycontrol News
first published: May 28, 2020 01:32 pm

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