Menstrual health and hygiene is a multidimensional concern. Although government and non-profits have taken great steps to address the issues in this space, there is a need to redefine initiatives around menstrual health management (MHM) to address some pressing gaps, particularly in the awareness, perception and access stages. among marginalized communities.
Raising the bar for menstrual health and hygiene
Awareness gap: education and training
Awareness initiatives should go beyond the “how” and focus on the “why”, ie the need to focus on hygiene. Women in these sections face many obstacles in terms of cultural, religious, sexual and social discrimination. Keeping in mind the nuances of the society in which they live, education on the effective measures they are capable of taking should be taught. The idea is not to instill fear but to arm them with information and allow them to be aware of the decisions they make, whether big or small. These include effective self-cleansing, washing, storing, and disposing of menstrual products in the manner in which they are capable. For example, because of the shame associated with menstruation, they are forced to hide and dry their menstrual clothes in dark, damp, and unsafe places. The use of impure fabrics is also a common practice. It is necessary to teach them about their body, how it works, infections and more important complications that can occur due to poor hygiene. This should be complemented by providing the means to practice good hygiene practices. Workshops, mentoring, twinning initiatives, and various comfort steps should be explored to create effective awareness programs for menstrual health management.
Perception gap: awareness and conditioning
Women live with many stigmas and taboos, particularly related to menstruation. Initiatives should be taken to increase the capacity of women to follow the education provided to them. In fact, it is not just society that is a barrier, but women’s own beliefs that prevent them from following safe practices. One way to do this is to increase outreach touchpoints. Help older women take care of their children, the youngest girls in their family. Help them break the cycle by increasing self-esteem and confidence while providing a sense of comfort, familiarity and community. Help girls build a sense of community and sisterhood with other women through workshops and encourage them to lean on each other. It is important to bring in specialists and doctors to help them gain reasoning power and believe that their lives are important. These steps help reduce the barriers they face when it comes to adopting and following hygiene measures. It is important to include male family members and educators in awareness programs and to help them become an ally in the cause.
Access gaps: supply and procurement
Awareness raising and awareness initiatives will not work if the products and facilities needed for menstrual hygiene management are not available or accessible. Although there are various initiatives to provide menstrual products, it is important to note that provision is not enough. If the offer is not consistent, the awareness objective is lost. This increases the likelihood that women will revert to unsafe menstrual products. Another concern is quantity. Menstruating women need products based on the intensity of their menstrual flow. Care should be taken to consider the needs of each woman when providing commodities. It is a good idea to increase self-sufficiency, by empowering local women’s groups and including them in the production of cheap and safe sanitary napkins. Beyond products, facilities are a major concern. Private spaces, clean toilets and water supply are essential for menstrual health management. Sanitation is a non-negotiable requirement to consider, if the goal is to improve menstrual hygiene.
There is a need to lead by example and go beyond surface-level engagement. In order to be able to meet these redefined needs for adequate menstrual hygiene management, the approach must be holistic, integrated and impactful if we are to see real change.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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