CHENNAI: Surrounded by myths and misconceptions and the hesitation to openly talk in public spaces, menstrual hygiene is not a topic that would make the city go abuzz. As much as menstruation is a biological guarantee for a woman, it’s shocking that there isn’t much awareness on menstrual hygiene.
On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, City Express spoke to a few experts about menstruation, the practices that lead to many health issues, and what constitutes hygiene. “Menstrual cycle is an all-month everyday thing. People think that menstrual hygiene means being extra careful during the days when you get periods, which is not the case,” says Dr Janani Manoharan, a gynaecologist in the city.
But it also depends on how much you know about keeping yourself clean and infection-free. For instance, a lot of working women in the city use sanitary napkins with advanced gel technology that enable them work for longer hours with very little discomfort. But that’s not healthy. “You have to change your pad every three to four hours, and the skin needs to be kept dry,” says Dr Soumya Balakrishnan, consultant at Seethapathy Clinic and Hospital. “Using sanitary napkins with a nylon coating must be avoided as far as possible.”
Another alternative, which is not common in India, are tampons. “A tampon demands extra care because if you leave it for too long inside, it can lead to sepsis, or the life-threatening septicemia too,” warns Dr Janani. “It happened somewhere in US long time back, because they were unaware of how to use it.”
Lack of awareness on menstrual hygiene is prevalent in rural areas. “In villages, they use cloth (like a cotton sari) as an alternative to sanitary napkins because the latter is expensive,” says Bhargavi, honorary secretary at Women’s Indian Association that runs 34 creches in the city.
“Through the association, our balasevikas distribute cheaper sanitary napkins (`3 per napkin) to the mothers of kids in our creches. But some of them still prefer to use cloth,” rues Bhargavi.
Disposal of sanitary napkins is another problem, especially in the rural areas. “The ideal way to dispose them is to create pits and burn them,” explains Bhargavi.
Convincing school kids to follow the hygienic ways is quite a task, says Shanta Rajaram, honorary correspondent at All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), which usually goes for inspection to schools. “Most children are from the slums and they don’t understand hygiene. Despite giving them bins and water facility, girls flush the napkins down the toilet, which causes clogging. Some throw it in trash without wrapping it in paper.”
Even urban women are not taught proper disposal techniques. Lata Rajendran, principal, MGR School for the Deaf, says it’s challenging to explain menstruation to girls with hearing disabilities using sign language. “It is very difficult to make them understand that getting your periods is natural. We literally show them how to use pads and dispose them. Yet they don’t follow the norms,” says Lata.
And there are women not using public toilets during periods as they fear infections. “Not taking nature’s call is more unhygienic than public toilets,” avers Dr Janani.
To put it in a nutshell, incessant discussions about menstrual hygiene will be futile, if the desired practices for the same are not put in action.
Still use cloth
Lack of awareness on menstrual hygiene is prevalent in rural areas. “In villages, I saw women suffering from many health problems due to lack of awareness. They use cloth as an alternative to sanitary napkins because the latter is expensive,” says Bhargavi, honorary secretary at Women’s Indian Association.