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Even today, menstruation and menstrual practices face numerous social, cultural and religious taboos in many parts of the world. In rural parts of India, girls and women face many difficulties and challenges at home, schools and work places. They aren't aware of the importance of personal menstrual hygiene during menstruation and these act as a hindrance in the path of menstrual hygiene management .
In rural areas, girls and women have no access to sanitary napkins and they have no knowledge about the types and method of using them. Also, they are unable to afford them due to high cost, which is why they mostly use reusable cloth pads which they wash and use again.
In Indian society, menstruation is still considered as dirty and impure, which is why not much is talked about menstrual hygiene management.
What Is Menstruation?
Menstruation or menses is a natural biological process of releasing blood and other associated matter from the uterus through the vagina as a part of the female reproductive cycle. The onset of menstruation (menarche) is the time when a girl has her first periods, which is considered an important biological milestone in a female's life. Menarche occurs in girls aged between 11 to 15 years with a mean age of 13 years .
A woman aged between 11 to 24 (puberty) and 45 to 55 (menopause) menstruates for an estimated 459 cycles during her life span .
Girls and women need to be aware of and have knowledge about the subject of menstruation. Then only they will learn about menstruation and menstrual hygiene management, which will have a positive impact on their mental and physical well-being.
A study conducted in a school in West Bengal, India showed that out of 160 school girls 67.5 per cent of girls were aware of menstruation before attaining menarche, 37.5 per cent of girls were informed about menstruation by their mothers, 28.75 per cent of girls came to know from their friends and 1.25 per cent of girls came to know from her relatives .
What Is Menstrual Hygiene Management?
The WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene has defined menstrual hygiene management as "Women and adolescent girls are using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. They understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear" .
Why Menstrual Hygiene Management Is Important?
Practising good menstrual hygiene habits is important as it lowers the risk of reproductive tract infections, helps ensure cleanliness and promotes well-being of girls and women.
A study conducted in Odisha, India has shown that poor menstrual hygiene management practices increase the risk of lower reproductive tract infections. 62.4 per cent of women had a higher prevalence of bacterial vaginosis (BV). Women who used reusable absorbent pads were more likely to have candida infection and bacterial vaginosis (BV) as compared to women who used disposable pads .
Effective menstrual hygiene management practices are essential in lowering the risk of reproductive tract infections. A study shows unhygienic menstrual practices can elevate the risk of reproductive tract infections and abnormal vaginal discharge .
What Are The Types Of Absorbents Used During Menstruation?
The menstrual hygiene products that are used to absorb period blood safely, comfortably and discreetly are disposable sanitary pads, cloth, cotton wool, toilet paper, tampons and menstrual cups.
Studies conducted in the urban areas of low and middle-income countries have reported that sanitary pads, cloth and tissue paper as the most commonly used menstrual hygiene products. Homemade pads, clothes, cotton wool, sponges and underwear are also common .
However, the choice of menstrual hygiene products differs in urban areas to rural areas. In urban areas, women and girls prefer to use commercially sold sanitary napkins and in rural areas, reusable cloth pads are used more .
In India, over 77 per cent of girls and women use reusable old cloth during their menstruation days. Around 88 per cent of women use ashes, newspapers, dried leaves and husk sand to help soak the period blood .
A study conducted in West Bengal showed that during menstruation out of 160 school girls, 18 girls used sanitary napkins, 68 girls used old cloth pieces, 10 girls used new cloth pieces, 64 girls used both cloth pieces and sanitary napkins .
In African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Egypt, girls in secondary school mostly used sanitary pads during their menstruation days. And school girls from Malawi and Ethiopia mostly used cloth or homemade pads. Studies have shown that Asian countries primarily relied on cloth or clothes during menstruation .
Although cloth pads are used more, the disposable sanitary pads offer greater protection from leakage and bad odour, while making a girl or women feel comfortable and safe.
Menstrual Waste Disposal Practised By Women
Girls and women face difficulties during their periods, especially when they do not know how to and where to dispose of their menstrual hygiene products. This is due to the socio-cultural taboo of menstruation and menstrual blood.
Studies have shown that currently girls and women dispose of their used menstrual absorbents by throwing them in the open or in latrines and burning, or burying them, which are unsafe and unhygienic. In India, burning or throwing off menstrual absorbents in open spaces are more common in rural and slum areas .
Similar cases were seen among school girls in Ethiopia too, where menstrual absorbents were disposed of in latrines. In low-income communities in Bangladesh, some women disposed of their used cloth in ditches and drains. Women throw their menstrual absorbents in toilets as it was perceived as a discrete disposable option because they feel uncomfortable throwing it out in the open .
In urban areas, disposable menstrual products are flushed in toilets, thrown in dustbins or disposed of through solid waste management.
However, there are effective ways to dispose of menstrual waste properly in order to keep yourself and the surroundings clean and hygienic.
Ways To Dispose Of Menstrual Wastes Effectively
• Incinerators work best in disposing of menstrual waste properly by burning sanitary pads with the help of electricity. Incinerators use electricity to heat the heating coil which will burn the sanitary pads dumped into it. When the pads burn, it turns to ashes, which gets collected at the removable ash collector in the upper part of the incinerator. This device can be used in schools, colleges, work places, hospitals, etc .
• Special covered bins should be installed to dispose of menstrual waste properly.
• Disposal bags should be provided for discarding menstrual products.
• Do not dispose of menstrual waste along with domestic waste.
• Wrap sanitary pads properly in newspaper and then throw it in the dustbin .
Q. Is period blood impure?
A. Menstrual blood is not impure and is not considered a disease. No toxins are released in period blood. Menstruation is a natural biological process of the female reproductive cycle.
Q. How do you manage period hygiene?
A. Change your sanitary pads every four to six hours, wash the vaginal area regularly, don't use soaps or other vagina hygiene products and discard the sanitary napkins properly.
Q. Where do you throw away pads?
A. Don't flush your pad down the toilet, instead wrap the pad in a newspaper and throw it in a closed dustbin.
Q. Can I burn used sanitary pads?
A. No, it is recommended to not burn sanitary pads as it will release toxic chemicals.