Menstruation is still considered a taboo in the Indian society. Even today, the cultural and social influences on people create a major hurdle in ensuring that the adolescent girls are given proper knowledge on menstrual hygiene.
Mothers are also reluctant to talk about this topic with their daughters and many of them lack scientific knowledge on puberty and menstruation.
The main reasons for this taboo still being relevant in the Indian society are high rate of illiteracy especially in girls, poverty and lack of awareness about menstrual health and hygiene. Only less than 18 per cent of Indian women use sanitary pads.
On a global level, at least 500 million women and girls lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management. Lack of adequate information on sanitation and hygiene facilities, particularly in public places like schools, workplaces or health centers can pose a major obstacle to women and girls.
In some families, menstruation is being perceived as an unclean or embarrassing thing, extending even to the mention of menstruation both in public and in private. Most girls even hide themselves out of fear or embarrassment on their way to a medical store, rather majority of them cannot afford to buy hygienic sanitary pads.
71% adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation till menarche.
Population Foundation of India (PFI), found that more than half of the women surveyed had no access to sanitary pads during the lockdown.
Improving the reach and quality of low cost pads is an important part of tackling menstrual health, as affordability is still the main barrier for the usage of pads in India.
Menstrual health in India is still largely governed by taboos and a lack of information. It needs to be addressed through social and behavioral change programs. There is little knowledge about the health consequences of using unhygienic methods for menstrual management. The usage of cloth, which is a traditional method, in itself is not unhygienic and is also a sustainable option, but it requires washing and drying in the sun. Most women in India do not feel comfortable with the washing and drying because of prevailing taboos, apart from lack of access to water also proving to be a problem.
Given the multiple challenges women and adolescent girls face, it is evident that promoting menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is not only a sanitation matter; it is also an important step towards safeguarding the dignity, bodily integrity and overall life opportunities of women and girls.