Period Poverty: Breaking the shame

In developing countries less than 30% of people have adequate hand washing facilities at home
Period Poverty: Breaking the shame

Period poverty means lack of access to sanitary products,menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and, wastemanagement. It affects people globally, and women living in poverty arevulnerable. More than 800 million people, across the globe, menstruate dailyyet, 2.3 million people live without basic sanitation services. In developingcountries less than 30% of people have adequate hand washing facilities athome. As a result, it is difficult for women and young girls to manage theirperiods safely. Menstruation is stigmatized around the world especially insouth-Asia. According to UNICEF, poor menstrual hygiene exhibits physicalhealth risks and has been linked to reproductive morbidities. Moreover, itstops women from reaching their full potential due to miss opportunitiescrucial to their growth. Young girls who do not receive any education are morelikely to enter marriages at early age and experience; early pregnancy,domestic violence, undernourishment and pregnancy complications. Period shamehas diverse negative mental effects as well. It dis-empowers women, causingthem to feel embarrassed about a normal biological process. As a result, womenand young girls suffer from a sense of inferiority adding to their mentalburden. The cultural shame attached to this natural process and pooraccess/shortage of resources stop women from working and going to school andevery day. Furthermore, most of the chronic reproductive morbidities areassociated with poor sanitary hygiene. This has diverse implications as chronicreproductive diseases indicate a continuous expenditure on health whichdisturbs the financial discipline of the family.

Ending the tax worldwide makes period products affordable —too many people cannot pay for them at all and are usually torn betweenpurchasing food or menstrual supplies thus leading to a financial catastrophe.Although some countries around the world have lifted the tax on period productsas luxury items, others continue to use it. The Indian ministry of health reportedthat only 12% of menstruates have access to sanitary products, leaving the restto use unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as an alternative, A studyconducted in rural context explored the existing practices on menstrual hygienemanagement of the girls and women and its determining factors. It was reportedthat around 90% of the adolescent girls use unhygienic cloths duringmenstruation. A similar study in urban context reported the most commonpractices during Menstruation included the use of old cloth among 86% due toaffordability. Global data suggests that rural areas have better access tobasic sanitary hygiene than urban areas with disproportionate access to healthin general. Living in conflict-affected areas like Kashmir also makes it even moredifficult for women and girls to manage their periods. Most of these women areostracized from basic activities; like socializing, eating certain foods andgoing to school leading to absenteeism. On the other hand, girls with specialneeds and disabilities do not have access to the facilities and resources, theyneed for proper menstrual hygiene.

The solution lies in 'Menstrual education' across thecommunity and its inclusion in the school curriculum. Sensitizing children atearly age regarding the issues gender, sexual and reproductive health and therights associated with them, has proven exceptionally beneficial. Promotingmenstrual equity i.e. access to sanitary products, proper toilets, hand washingfacilities, sanitation and hygiene education, and waste management for peoplearound the world; is key to supporting women and young girls. Young boysbenefit from menstrual hygiene education, too. Educating girls and boys onmenstruation at an early age at home and school promotes healthy habits and breaksstigmas around the natural process as well.

Ateeb Ahmad Parray is Tropical Diseases Research Fellow ,World Health Organization

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