Bust myths and remove taboos around Menstruation

A webinar in India to address gaps in menstrual hygiene management calls for government investment and the need to break the silence around Menstruation.
Raza Naqvi
Women in india learning about menstruation
Women learning about menstruation during a training organised by WSSCC India office

A woman's menstrual health is essential to her well-being. Yet, it is often compromised due to a lack of awareness where cultural customs, myths, taboos and stigma prevail, and discrimination, inadequate infrastructure and limited access to menstrual products.

Among development issues, menstrual hygiene remains one of the most challenging. According to a UNICEF report, at least 500 million women and girls worldwide lack adequate facilities for menstrual health and hygiene management (MHM). In India, women and young girls face discrimination based on Menstruation. A 2014 study titled Spot On revealed that 63 million adolescent girls live in a home without toilet facilities.

To help address the gaps in MHM, a webinar was organized by the Seshadripuram Evening Degree College (SEDC) in Bengaluru, the state capital of Karnataka in southwestern India, in collaboration with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council ( WSSCC), TATA Trust, a grant-bestowing foundation, and Jatan Sansthan, an NGO based in the state of Rajasthan.

"Over the years, things have improved, and people have started talking about menstruation, but there is still a long way to go, and MHM needs focus at all levels," said Dr Wooday P Krishna, Honorary General Secretary of SEDC, Bengaluru.

"Menstruation is a natural biological process, and all should understand this. Unfortunately, many myths and taboos remain associated with it, and that affects the health and mental state of women.

"We need to bust myths and remove taboos from the society through dialogue and discussions," he said.

Calling upon the government, Dr Krishna said that the country needs investment in building the infrastructure and resources for menstrual health and hygiene (MHH), especially in schools and colleges.

Panelists at a webinar on menstrual Health and Hygiene
WSSCC Technical expert on Menstrual Health and Hygiene (top Right) one of the panelists at a webinar on menstrual Health and Hygiene

Dr Virginia Kamowa, an MHH technical expert with WSSCC, also participated in the webinar and echoed similar sentiments.

 "Specific investment in the sanitation and hygiene sector is critical for menstrual health management," she said.

Reiterating the fact that periods don't stop for pandemics, Dr Kamowa said that a dedicated budget is required for emergency preparedness, with a focus on grassroots organizations and cause champions for better advocacy.

"There is a need for systemic changes to ensure that no menstruator is left behind, including those in prisons, IDP camps and the vulnerable," she said.

Dr Lakshmi Murthy,  the Additional Director of Jatan Sansthan, has worked in the field of menstrual health for the past three decades and demands increased awareness of MHH.

"Breaking the silence is important if we want to promote healthy menstrual practices in rural and urban communities," said Dr Murthy.

"We should also involve men in the dialogue around Menstruation because this will act as a critical component of awareness building. Women should be encouraged to look for alternative products that are sustainable and don't harm the environment.

"We at Jatan Sansthan have designed sustainable cloth pads that we have named 'Uger' and prepared kits that help women know about healthy practices associated with Menstruation, pad making and nutrition," said Dr Murthy.

"Often, adolescent girls have to drop out of school when they start menstruating due to lack of adequate facilities. A dedicated fund can help solve these issues. Setting up self-help groups, in collaboration with organizations working in this field, can reap huge benefits for this cause," she added.

Woman and man display materials used to train women on menstrual health
A display of Menstrual Health and Hygiene learning materials

Mr Vinod Mishra, the National Coordinator for WSSCC in India, said that a three-pronged approach is essential in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) related to menstrual health and hygiene, consisting of breaking the silence on Menstruation, managing Menstruation hygienically and reusing menstrual and sanitary absorbents.

Ms Lara Gulia, Senior Executive at TATA Trusts, emphasized the need to break the silence.

"Women need a safe space to feel comfortable to speak about Menstruation and support to understand their bodies. Break the silence and encourage conversations!" said Ms Gulia.

"Lack of awareness results in decisions that affect a woman's health, and once we start busting myths and enabling women to adopt healthy practices, many problems will be solved."