World Menstrual Hygiene Day is being celebrated for the fourth year now on May 28, with more than 400 partner-organizations working towards creating awareness of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) as part of the initiative by WASH United (water, sanitation, hygiene).
In recent years, there has been an active effort by individuals and organizations to promote awareness regarding menstrual hygiene through building toilets, providing low-cost sanitary pads and appropriate disposal facilities to women who previously did not have access to them. For example, state governments of Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, etc., provide free sanitary napkins to government schools in a bid to prevent girls from missing school on account of menstruation. Studies by the UNICEF show that 28 percent of female students do not attend school when on their period due to the unavailability of hygienic absorbent materials. Initiatives like the celebration of the World Menstrual Hygiene Day is making a definitive step towards bringing such issues into the mainstream spotlight.
Integration of issues like menstrual hygiene into popular culture gives it exposure and lets the matter resonate with a wider audience. For example, the Bollywood movie Padman, helmed by a mainstream actor like Akshay Kumar drew very positive reactions for its subject, especially in a country like India where menstruation as a topic of discussion is hidden away from the public eye due to its stigmatisation historically. In a move to promote the film, its makers created #PadmanChallenge, which entailed celebrities posing with menstrual pads on social media to dispel the stigma surrounding it. While the reaction to this initiative was mixed, it cannot be denied that India finally saw itself making a move towards normalising menstruation as a natural bodily function and rid it of its undeserved taboo. Dilip Cherian, Image Guru and consulting partner of Perfect Relations notes that “When Bollywood stepped up in the form of the Padman film, it started conversations in social media as well as in real time. The use of a bankable bonafide star like Akshay Kumar and endorsements from other Bollywood celebs certainly helped spread awareness about menstruation, a topic rarely discussed in public (or even privately) in the country. For once, it was not just about the movie’s box-office collections but about our largely orthodox society and the stigma around women and their bodies.”
While it is a start, India still has a long way to go in terms of creating awareness about menstrual hygiene and making resources and facilities to exercise it available to women across the country. Initiatives of individuals like Arunachalam Muruganantham (the real-life Padman) and organizations like Mukti Project, Sukhibhava, etc., has resulted in scores of girls across several villages in India gain both awareness of menstrual hygiene and access to affordable sanitary napkins and disposal units. Dilip Kumar Pattubala, co-founder and CEO of Sukhibhava, a Bengaluru based NGO that lays emphasis on female empowerment through menstrual hygiene practices observes “There has definitely been an increase in the wave of menstrual hygiene awareness across India of recent. But at the grass root level, ignorance still seem to prevail. Through our questionnaires filled in by girls and women in villages we have worked in, we saw that around 70-75 percent of them were not aware of the function of their reproductive organs or its significance. So there is need to create awareness among them from the scratch.” Cherian makes an interesting observation about the current scenario. “At present, there seems to be a higher emphasis on the fact that women of low-income groups do not have access to menstrual hygiene products than creating awareness as a matter of urgency.”
It is evident by now that the way to go is to establish a steadily running system that creates awareness among women of the need for menstrual hygiene while simultaneously provide affordable sanitary napkins which would, in turn, enable the practice of hygienic management of menstruation. So help spread the word and let people know of the significance of this date by trending the hashtag #Nomorelimits, and check out the official website of World Menstrual Hygiene Day to find out how you can be part of this much-needed initiative.