A tide of change in India - 3,000 days of pain and shame is out in the open

WSSCC, WASH United and Quicksand
Last updated: Mon, 10/08/2012 - 09:12

Young girls and women menstruate on average close to 3,000 days over a lifetime, or nearly 10 years of their lives. However, shockingly few are able to manage this natural monthly biological occurrence  - known as Menstrual Hygiene Management- without shame and pain.

Girls start menstruating anytime between the ages of eight and sixteen and continue every month until their late forties or early fifties. On average this adds up to about 3,000 days of menstruation over a lifetime – with very real, practical needs such as adequate water for personal hygiene within a safe space, material for absorbing menstrual blood and facilities for proper disposal of used materials with privacy and dignity.

According to a recent study, 355 million women menstruate in India on a monthly basis. The study by A.C. Nielsen and Plan India shows that many of these women are impacted by poor menstrual hygiene management, and that:

  • 12 percent of young girls and women have access to and use sanitary napkins
  • 200 million have a poor understanding of menstrual hygiene and associated health care
  • 23% of India’s girls drop out of school after reaching puberty

More than 300 million women and girls In India use unsanitary material such as old rags, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers every month to try and contain the flow of menstrual blood, because they don’t have access to essential sanitary products and facilities during this time.  These unhygienic measures during menstruation make women susceptible to infections and diseases pertaining to the urinary tract and reproductive system.

Ms. Archana Patkar, Programme Manager at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council says that experiences from women and girls in India and around the around the globe, reveal the same prolonged pattern of absence from work and school and suffering in silence due to lack of facilities – constantly reinforcing social stigma. Whilst global efforts on sanitation and hygiene are ongoing, women are frequently excluded, marginalized or simply forgotten.  

As a result of societal taboos and shame linked to menstruation along with the silence and global neglect of this basic human requirement, women and girls are often ashamed of their bodies and unable to speak about their needs.

“Women are the progenitors of the human race,” Ms. Patkar adds, “Menstruation is therefore something of which they can and should be proud, so each and every one of us should work to improve the lives and life chances for women who do not have access to napkins and clean water and toilets with safe disposal facilities; who cannot talk about their experiences; or are not empowered to contribute towards a solution.”

Through the Nirmal Bharat Great WASH Yatra, WSSCC is committed to bringing menstruation, a subject often not talked about - out of the dark. Indian staples – mythology, cricket, Bollywood, dance and song – will paint the Yatra with pageantry and festivity during a 40-day, multi-state journey designed to inspire real change by talking toilets and highlighting hand washing. For WSSCC, a key partner, ,it provides the opportunity to talk with girls and their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, teachers and colleagues along the Yatra route about menstruation without shame and embarrassment, in order to break the silence to find solutions collectively.

The Yatra builds upon India’s strong tradition of civic activism and is a major opportunity to make it possible to talk about dignity, hygiene and health, rights, gender, safe and private facilities, affordable and safe sanitary pad use and disposal, and more.

The Yatra is an intitiative of WASH United, a German international water, sanitation and hygiene advocacy organization that has pioneered new approaches using the power of sports super stars, interactive games and positive communication to promote safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and Quicksand,  an India-based innovation firm with significant background in the field of WASH innovation. WSSCC is one of several key partners working with WASH United and Quicksand on the Yatra.