28 May 2024  |   05:39am IST

Promoting sustainable and hygienic menstrual practices

For billions of women and teenage girls around the world, the menstrual cycle is a natural aspect of life, but it can also present hardships that are made worse by cultural stigmas and a lack of resources. Innovative solutions are emerging to address health demands and environmental issues, ranging from reusable pads to menstruation cups. Today being Menstrual Hygiene Day, it is crucial to recognise the significance of this day in advancing sustainable and hygienic menstrual practices and fostering a #PeriodFriendlyWorld
Promoting sustainable and hygienic menstrual practices

Annalie Rodrigues

Menstrual Hygiene Day was first introduced in 2013 by the German non-profit organisation WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) United. Since its inaugural commemoration in 2014, Mental Health Day has grown tremendously to become the international advocacy platform that it is today. Since the normal menstrual cycle is 28 days long and women usually get their period for an average of five days per month, Menstrual Hygiene Day is marked on May 28 (5th month) each year. 

This year’s theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day is ‘Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld’. This idealises a world in which stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation are a thing of the past. It is a world wherein everyone can access menstrual products, period education and period-friendly infrastructure that they need. This day holds significance because over 500 million women and girls around the world do not have adequate access to facilities for menstruation hygiene. Their overall well-being, education, and health are all impacted by this lack of access. There is more to menstrual hygiene than simply having access to sanitary goods. It includes having areas that are safe and hygienic for changing, having access to soap and water for washing, and knowing how to properly dispose of used menstruation products. Furthermore, it also includes education on menstruation management so that it can be handled in a dignified manner, without any discomfort or fear.

Goonj, working towards menstrual health and hygiene management since 2005, in association with the Centre for Development Policy and Practice and the National Foundation for India, is hosting the MH Dialogue today at India Habitat Centre, Delhi. This day-long conference will bring together experts for insightful discussions on menstrual health and hygiene, which will encourage open conversations in both rural and urban spaces. It is of utmost importance that such meetings are held in Goa as well to normalise these crucial dialogues for better menstrual health and hygiene.

Observing Menstrual Hygiene Day contributes to addressing the many problems associated with menstruation. These include cultural taboos that breed discrimination and shame, substandard sanitary facilities, and limited access to cost-effective menstruation supplies. The day helps to mitigate the detrimental effects that substandard menstrual hygiene have on women's health and education by spreading awareness and educating people. It is a call to action for advancements in menstruation-related policies, infrastructure, and cultural attitudes.

To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, one can engage in various impactful activities. It is important to priorities one's health and well-being by scheduling a visit to a gynecologist for a check-up. Advocacy efforts can be directed towards demanding full disclosure of ingredients in menstrual products, ensuring that they are safe and free from harmful chemicals. By following and supporting champions of menstrual equity on social media platforms, one can amplify their voices and contribute to the movement. One must also try to shift to more sustainable and hygienic practices, such as menstrual cups and reusable pads. Additionally, involvement in public and community events, such as donating menstrual products to children's homes or participating in educational sessions about menstrual health, can make a significant impact. Each action taken contributes to the collective effort of creating a more informed and period-friendly world.

Dr Sneha Bhagwat, having done her specialisation in women’s health, says, “Proper care and hygiene during menstruation is important, as contrary to people’s beliefs, it not only impacts fertility but also pelvic health, physiological conditions and female health as a whole.” 

When asked how women can take care of their menstrual hygiene, she says, “Based on whether they are using sanitary napkins, cloth napkins, or other such products, they should make sure to change and clean them at constant intervals. They should also be mindful of their diet a few days before and during menstruation, as it can impact dysmenorrhea (period pain) during menstruation. There is still a taboo about periods and until this is extinguished and given due importance in the education system, it is difficult to spread awareness about menstrual health.” 

She adds, “In most South Indian states, people celebrate Ritu Kala Samskara, which is a celebration after menarche (first menstruation) of a girl child. This tradition, or at least a small-scale celebration, should be adopted by all because it helps the girl to think of menstruation as a positive experience and in the future too, she will be able to relate it to this positive memory rather than thinking of it as something negative that she needs to be ashamed about.”

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is defined as ‘Women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials’.

Dr Jorson Fernandes, an AFIH doctor and a resource person for menstrual health and hygiene says, “It is unfortunate to see that superstitious beliefs regarding periods exist to date. Women while menstruating are often not allowed to enter the kitchen and are made to sleep separately, use separate utensils and cannot even be touched. These beliefs need to be eradicated to make women feel less ostracised and to think of periods in a more positive manner. Girls as well as boys need to be educated about menstruation so as to create a safe and inclusive space for women menstruating. We should also look into the waste management aspect of segregation of used products, as they can be harmful to the environment if not dealt with effectively.”

With regards to environmental damage, he says, “Although the traditional menstrual product has been cloth, companies have convinced women to switch to sanitary napkins as they are more convenient, thus ignoring the hazardous impact the plastic waste has on the environment as well as the rashes and irritation that it can cause. Women should instead shift to more sustainable and hygienic options instead of sanitary napkins, as each person who switches to a sustainable menstrual product can reduce up to 125 kg of sanitary waste in our landfills.”


Iddhar Udhar