Mumbai: Even after 71 years of Independence women in India are not free from the shackles of taboo and health risks. This is proven by the fact that over 300 million women in this country do not use sanitary pads during periods. Instead majority of the women rely on reusable unhygienic cloth, sand, rags, newspapers and even ash during their menstrual cycle, unaware of just how dangerous it is for their health. All these materials can lead to bacterial infection and the risk of suffering from Pelvic Inflammatory Disease also becomes higher.
The culture of silence around menstruation has also meant that just about half (55 per cent) of menstruating women consider periods as a natural physical process, according to a report by DASRA, an NGO. With almost half of them treating periods are unnatural, it is not surprising that women often indulge in unhygienic practices. In addition to the lack of awareness, sanitary napkins are unaffordable and inaccessible to 88 per cent of women in India during their periods.
Safe, hygienic practices during menstruation is often equated with the use of pads. However, menstrual hygiene management is much more, and includes a range of inter-related behaviors including the use of a safe clean absorbent (reusable or disposable), changing of absorbent frequently during the day, washing the genitals with water and daily bathing, washing, drying and storing reusable cloths safely, and disposing used materials appropriately (wrapping in paper, segregating waste where possible), Arundati Muralidharan, Manager-Policy at WaterAid India tells NDTV.
As the country completes 71 years of independence and aims to realise Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a clean India by 2019, here’s a list of menstrual hygiene tips every girl and woman should follow to break away from the irrational shackles of age-old beliefs and malpractices and choose a healthy life:
1) Choose Your Guard
From conventional sanitary pads, eco-friendly sanitary pads, tampons to menstrual cups, there are numerous options available in the market. Once selected, stick to one method of hygiene practice. Women often tend to use a variety of combinations on different days of periods like using two sanitary pads simultaneously, using a tampon and a pad or using different brands of pads to prevent blood stains.
While it may give a stain-free menstruation, it is also likely to cause infections. Using multiple things absorbs blood effectively and one many not feel the need to change and accumulated blood invites bacteria. Using different brands every month may not suit body needs as different brands suit different people. So, identify the brand that suits you the best and stick to it.
2) Change Sanitary Napkins Every 4-6 Hours
When the sanitary napkins are not disposed of in a timely manner it can attract various organisms from the body. When these organisms remain in a moist and warm place they multiply and cause irritation, rashes or urinary tract infections. You may want to change your pad every 4-6 hours or even earlier depending on how heavy the flow is. Even on days when the blood flow is less, changing pads regularly is equally necessary as wearing a damp pad may cause skin infection. In case of tampons experts recommend changing them every three hours.
Talking about reusable cloth pads and cups Ms Muralidharan says, “If using reusable cloth pads, the pads must be washed well with water and regular detergent (no need for disinfectants) and dried in the sun. The washed and dried cloth should be stored in a clean dry place. If using cups, the user must wash hands before inserting cup into the vagina. The used cup should be emptied of blood, rinsed with clean water before re-insertion. At the end of a menstrual period, the cup should be sterilized before the next use.”
3) Wash Yourself Regularly
Even today, women blindly follow the traditional myth of not having a bath during periods. The myth was based on the fact that women in the past had no option but to bathe in the open or in water bodies like lake or river. But times have changed and now there are bathrooms.
Since vagina is more sensitive than other parts of the body, washing it regularly especially during periods is a vital aspect of menstrual hygiene management. When menstruating, the blood often tends to slide into tiny spaces like the skin between labia and crust around the opening of the vagina. It is necessary to wash away the blood before changing into a new pad. Wash genital area with lukewarm water.
Doctors also recommend washing in the right way. Most of the women do not know the right technique of washing. Motioning the hand from vagina to anus is the correct way as the opposite direction can transfer bacteria from anus to lodge in the vagina causing urinary tract infection.
4) Avoid Using Soaps And Vaginal Hygiene Products
Using soap, douches, gels, antiseptic or shampoo in the intimate area can upset the natural flora. It can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation. Besides, the vagina has a natural cleansing mechanism and using soaps can kill the good bacteria.
5) Safely Dispose Of Menstrual Waste
Sanitary waste disposal is a huge problem that needs to be tackled on an urgent basis. Every month, around 1,13,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is generated across India generate menstrual waste. The pads take anything between 300-500 years to decompose as the plastic used is not bio-degradable and can lead to health and environmental hazards.
Installing incinerators, a machine that scientifically treats discarded sanitary pads, may not be feasible in every city or village due to high cost, maintenance fees, space, and other logistics. And even where the incinerators are installed, they aren’t used efficiently as women do not segregate their menstrual waste.
To start with, women should get into the practice of safely wrapping the used pads in a newspaper that will not only contain the bad odour but will also prevent infections. The red dot campaign in Pune is an excellent example for properly discarding menstrual waste. Women in the city mark a red dot on the newspaper for the ragpickers to identify the waste thus preventing health risks for them as well. Flushing them in the toilet is also a dangerous practice as the pads tend to block the toilet or the sewerage.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.