Sound menstrual hygiene management (MHM) entails ensuring that women and girls can manage their periods in a way that is not only healthy, but also enables their full participation in social, economic, and other productive activities.
In India, the inadequacy of sound MHM practice is a product of both access and awareness. Over 75% of menstruating women in continue to use scrap cloth, leaves, ash, sand, straw, and hay during their period, and approximately 23 percent of adolescent girls in rural areas quit school due to improper sanitation facilities. The commendable efforts of several civil society organisations as well as conscious and responsible citizens led to the removal of the 12 percent Goods & Services Tax (GST) by the Union government of India on sanitary pads recently. The consequence of this on the use of sanitary pads is yet to be seen, but is a step in the right direction. Furthermore, menstruation continues to be a taboo topic in most households in India – in both, rural and urban areas. Absence of conversations about sound MHM practice impedes awareness about this critical topic, according to a study conducted in 2016 by the School of Public Health of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research. The adverse health effects of poor MHM include urinary and reproductive tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, poor reproductive health, and in some cases, cervical cancer.
In light of the lack of awareness about and access to MHM, Bhajan Global Impact Foundation launched its campaign on the occasion of Teacher’s Day. On 5 September 2018, BGIF, in partnership with Project Baala, set out to recognise, celebrate, and work with, our first and most important teachers – our Mothers. An interactive session was organised on MHM awareness for approximately 1,000 girls and women in Adampur tehsil in the Hisar district of Haryana.
The workshop began with our attempt to break the silence around menstrual hygiene. Using engaging and relatable examples – for instance asking the question of what Sakshi Malik (an Olympic medalist in wrestling from Haryana) would do should she have a period during the finals of a major tournament – we were able to break the ice and encourage the adolescent girls and their mothers to think deeply and talk openly about this subject.
This was followed by a fun activity, aimed at teaching the audience, methods of reducing physical pain during menstruation, including yoga poses and other exercises. The girls were informed about when they should visit a doctor, for instance, during an abnormally lengthy menstrual cycle. Through real-life examples, the workshop was able to disseminate awareness on methods to maintain cleanliness (‘safaai’) and hygiene.
Besides creating awareness, the workshop also attempted to offer practical solutions to the access issue. Baala sanitary pads, India’s first certified reusable and re-washable pads that are eco-friendly and can be used for approximately 18 months, were provided to the girls, who were also explained their benefits and appropriate use. The girls were overjoyed on receiving the sanitary pads.
BGIF was truly moved and humbled to see the spirited response and positive feedback of all the participants, as several girls approached us with intelligent questions on MHM, anecdotes about their personal experiences, and a promise to practise healthy MHM. Their response has reinforced our commitment to addressing the issue of menstrual hygiene awareness and access.
At BGIF, we truly believe that each individual has the right and freedom to a healthy life and to realise their fullest potential. Women’s full participation in economic and social life is a dream worth pursuing. Moving forward, we aim to scale up this initiative to reach more adolescent girls in Haryana as well as to make the disbursement of sanitary pads to the girls of Adampur a sustainable initiative. We hope to collaborate with passionate and committed individuals and organisations to fulfil this dream!