Let’s talk periods, shall we? Not too long ago, the monthly visits of Aunty Flo had been a hush-hush affair, and not something you could talk candidly about. However, today there are extensive dialogues about periods, especially among the urban crowd who are aware of the ill effects of dodging discussions around a topic which had been stigmatized since time immemorial. Having said that, one cannot deny the lurking shadow of embarrassment that still plagues most women on occasions they stain their dress or are seen lying down with a tummy ache. There’s a gap between awareness and praxis, and that’s something we need to address.
This Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May), let us also not stay silent about the plight of women in underprivileged households who don’t get access to basic hygiene facilities during that time of the month.
At least 500 million women and girls around the world lack proper access to menstrual hygiene facilities. This invariably puts them at risk of various diseases associated with lack of proper sanitation and infrastructure. Besides, inadequate knowledge about the menstrual cycle and ‘period shaming’ has also led to further shushing of the matter and the consequent lack of basic awareness around it. The reality of ‘period shaming’ is so much so that, in India, only one in every two girls is aware of menstruation before she gets her first period.
In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, let us not forget the predicament of the migrant workers who had to walk hundreds of kilometres in the wake of an unforeseen countrywide lockdown, among whom many women had succumbed to the misfortune of giving birth on their way, or falling ill due to the prolonged ordeal. Not just that, a sizeable portion of the Indian population lives in slums, where women mostly resort to using any absorbent they can find, including dirty rags and even plastics to deal with their menses, in the absence of clean sanitary napkins. With COVID-19 lockdown in the background, as they find themselves stuck without access to any kind of safe sanitary options, we wonder how are these women supposed to deal with menstruation and its collateral problems. It’s important to remember that these are not merely ‘inconveniences’. These affect the overall health of women and can result in more serious issues, including death. This is why, this Menstrual Hygiene Day, this is just one of the many questions we need to raise.
Effective Menstrual Hygiene Management, despite being a part of basic human rights, is something that disadvantaged women both in rural and urban areas struggle to get access to. Many of them succumb to using unclean toilet facilities and inadequate pads and absorbents while menstruating. This normal bodily function is still met with taboos and stigma, which makes it even more difficult for women to ask for help.
Despite this being a pressing issue of basic human rights and privacy, Menstrual Hygiene Management is often overlooked in post-disaster responses, according to a study published on BMC Women’s Health, a peer-reviewed journal.
To this end, during this Menstrual Hygiene Management month amid the COVID-19 crisis, Essar Foundation has undertaken the massive initiative of distributing over 400,000 sanitary napkins in Mumbai and has launched ‘Sahej’ - a 360-degree menstrual hygiene management mobile app.
The Sahej app has been developed in consultation with key NGOs (Non-governmental Organisations) working in the menstrual hygiene space, namely the Rotaract Club, Kavach A Movement and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. The Android-based app offers a one-stop solution for women to menstruate with dignity. It encourages adolescent girls to maintain menstrual health by availing of hygienic products at subsidised prices.
The app also features a one-of-a-kind e-store of menstrual products manufactured by women-led micro enterprises and SHGs (Self Help Groups). It provides a platform to donate sanitary napkins to underprivileged women, as well as equip Aanganwadi workers with the right information for educating girls from rural India on correct menstrual hygiene. Additionally, the app provides for unique ways to promote menstrual hygiene awareness through interactive game-based learning, educational videos by renowned doctors, and a period tracker. Available in three languages—Hindi, Marathi and English—the app caters to the customised needs of every woman across every age group.
The vision behind this initiative is to empower every woman and adolescent girl to be the best version of themselves by granting them access to menstrual management facilities, as well as educating them about hygienic menstrual habits. This is an empowering move, and it ensures the safety, privacy and dignity of women in all places and situations.
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