Menstruation begins in adolescence and continues until menopause and is an inevitable component of a woman’s reproductive cycle. It is a natural, cyclical phenomenon that women experience and is essential to biological processes and progenitive health. However, too often, attitudes, beliefs, and institutional biases impede women from receiving necessary menstrual health care, especially in developing countries like India. As a result, menstruation hygiene remains one of the most challenging development concerns of the present age.

Understanding Menstrual Hygiene 

Menstrual hygiene entails a thorough understanding of the behaviors meant to preserve cleanliness during the menstrual cycle. In essence, it is a more thorough framework than the use of sanitary products. It even includes the debunking of personal hygiene habits and product choices. Moreover, maintaining reproductive health and preventing infections like urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis are contingent upon developing appropriate menstrual hygiene practices.

Menstruation Cycle: Growing Concern for Developing Nations

While the topic of menstruation hygiene has gained significant global importance, it is still considered taboo in developing nations such as India. Even today, cultural and social constraints on individuals present a significant challenge in ensuring that teenage girls are properly educated about menstrual hygiene. Mothers are also hesitant to discuss this subject with their daughters, and many lack scientific understanding about puberty and menstruation.

The primary factors responsible for these taboos’s ongoing prevalence in Indian society include high rates of illiteracy, particularly among girls, poverty, and a lack of understanding about menstrual health and cleanliness. According to the National Family Health Survey, only 47% of married women aged 15 to 24 use sanitary methods to manage their monthly periods (locally manufactured pads, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, or tampons), whereas 23% exclusively use cloth. This indicates that there exists a lack of sufficient knowledge on sanitation and hygiene facilities, especially in places such as schools, businesses, and health centres, posing a significant barrier to women and girls.

Overcoming Challenges: Tips to Maintain Menstrual Hygiene

According to a survey conducted by Gynoveda, around 70% of women suffer from issues related to menstrual health. This number unveils an alarming issue that all segments of society must address immediately. Nevertheless, by prioritising hygiene as well as open communication, women can break down taboos surrounding menstruation. In addition, women can adopt the following techniques to facilitate menstrual hygiene in a better way:

  • Wear light, breathable garments (such as cotton pants). Tight clothes can retain moisture and heat, allowing microbes to grow.
  • Change menstrual products frequently during the periods. This is because prolonged use of a pad or period pants can develop a rash or infection.
  • Keep the genital area clean. Every day, wash the outermost part of the vagina (vulva) and bottom. To rinse the vulva, simply use water. Note that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Avoid disrupting its natural pH balance by washing or using chemicals to clean it; it can be perilous and lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.
  • Use unscented toilet paper, tampons, and pads. This is because scented hygiene products may irritate the skin and disrupt the vagina’s natural pH balance.

Role of Technology in Menstrual Health

As modern technology strives to address every problem in developing nations, the issues that women face during their periods are no exception. Along with the aforementioned methods, women may also embrace technology to manage their menstrual health. Though ‘smart tampons’ are still in their early stages, this technology has the potential to improve women’s health in the long run. Smart tampons use a Bluetooth applicator to connect with a mobile phone and deliver frequent reminders to change the product. Also, many women find it difficult to imagine that a period may be fully pain-free, despite using painkillers. TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine, which was traditionally employed by health professionals to treat arthritis and sports injuries only, is gaining momentum while being developed as a non-drug alternative for pain treatment during menstruation. By leveraging these technological innovations, women can become better educated about their body processes and plan ahead of time for any psychological or physical challenges they may encounter.

Menstrual hygiene boosts women’s health, confidence, and self-esteem while being associated with gender equality and basic human rights. Challenges are manifold and necessitate coordinated multisectoral efforts and interventions to break down societal taboos, myths, and prejudices. As a result, ensuring menstrual hygiene for girls and women has become essential, and it should be at the forefront of the developmental agenda, requiring immediate and significant efforts from all key stakeholders in India. Furthermore, establishing pragmatic time-bound benchmarks to demonstrate the successful implementation of existing policies and programmes would be a positive step toward delivering basic hygiene and reproductive services to girls and women.

Views expressed by: Mahipal Singh, Founder & CEO of Revaa

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