Khadiza Akter :: We live in a world where almost half of the population is women and almost every woman and girl (from menarche to menopause) menstruate on average every 28 days for about 5 days. But still, menstruation is a subject of confidentiality and the days of the menses are ‘a time of shame’. Until now menstruation is sticking up in silence, myths, taboos and even stigma.
Worldwide, women and girls’ face a lot of socio-economic and infrastructurallimits on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). And, these limits result in denial of their basic human rights and gender equality in particular. Rather, being a natural process which allows women across the world for the conception of children, menstruation should be celebrated and its hygienic management should be prioritized as a human right of women and girls.
According to UNICEF and WHO(2014) MHM is, “Women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management material”
In 2014, 28 May was declared as the Menstrual Hygiene Day, in an attempt to break the silence and raise awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM). The slogan for 2018’s Menstrual Hygiene Day is “No More Limits”. The idea behind the slogan is to urge people to normalize the action of menstruation without any limit, and ensure the access to hygiene management during menstruation across the world to enable women and girls to achieve their greater levels of success. . Today, Bangladesh also observing Menstrual Hygiene Day with different activities engaging students and professionals to raise awareness in the society and lessen the influence of myths, taboos and social stigma.
In Bangladesh, menstruation is often a taboo subject which is not openly discussed in the family or school. Girls are often not prepared for their first menstruation and lack the necessary skills and information to hygienically manage their menstruation.In addition, menstruating women and girls face several restrictions that prevent them from participating in normal daily life. In some parts of the country, in time of girls’ first menstruation, they remain almost captive in the room. It is believed that menstruating women and girls are ‘contaminated’, ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’ and not allowed to visit religious places and social gatherings, attend in religious and socio-cultural activities, share sleeping bed with others, go to the kitchen, step on cow-dung, touch clay pot, use oil in the hair, go outside in the evening etc.
In some communities it is also told that they should not intake nutritious food especially tamarind (or they will bleed more), eat meat and fish (or their menstruation blood will emit bad smell),walk fast or play (or they will bleed more), bathe during their menstrual cycle (or they will become infertile), look in a mirror (or it will lose its brightness), touch a cow (or it will become infertile), touch a plant (or it will die), cook or touch food and cooking utensils (or food will be spoiled),touch pickle (or it will rot), inform others (or the menstruation will last for a long), keep menstrual cloths or pads visible to crow and men (or there will be high menstrual pain in the abdomen, and if a man walks past menstrual rags or sees menstrual blood, misfortune will befall him), throw away old menstrual cloths instead of buried in the ground (or evil spirits will be attracted to the user) and some other stigmas.
Lack of income, inaccessibility to market and unavailability of Menstrual Management Material (MMM) are also the obstacles of MHM for women and girls. According to the Asian Development Bank (2016), in Bangladesh, around 32% population live under national poverty line, and women and girls are on top of them. So they cannot pay for improved MMM. Moreover, they feel shy to ask for buying MMM to their fathers/brothers/husbands.They also have little choice to buy MMM due to limited access to market. Usually MMM can be found in the Pharmacies those are located at market place and shopkeepers are male. They feel shy to buy MMM going to the market from male shopkeepers. In some areas, especially in rural, MMM are not supplied by the companies and shopkeepers also not interested to sell them as there is no or less demand.
Frustratingly, teachers or school management body also not well aware about MHM at school. According to the Preliminary Report of Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey (2014), number of schools with separate toilet for girls with MHM facilities is limited; only 3% schoolgirls have a trash bin inside their school toilet; 53% girls do not have access to toilet with adequate privacy at school and 30% girls face the same problem at their house; only in 33% schools and 40% households, clean water, soap and handwashing facilities are available.
Therefore, these limits associated with practicing MHM force young women and girls into seclusion from socio-cultural and daily activities, reduced mobility, malnutrition and physical illness, endangered sexual and reproductive health, absence from the school and work etc., andultimately lead to behaviors that hinder women and girls’ development and welfare.
In this context, it is high time to take necessary steps to overcome all the limits surrounding menstruation and ensure better access to MHM for all women and girls’ in Bangladesh. Without creating enabling environment and promoting meaningful dialogue, the ‘culture of silence’ around MHM cannot be broken. Thus, we need to give more focus on schools, workplaces, slums, and rural communities through organizing campaigns, setting up clubs, and doing other awareness raising activities where women and girls, as well as men and boys will be equally involved. On top of this, government and non-government sector including mass media and social media should work collaboratively in reducing the knowledge gap through information sharing, removing infrastructural barriers through implementing joint activities, and advocating to put MHM issue on the development and political agenda.
If the government wants to achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), considering MHM should be at the heart of its all development programs as menstrual hygiene is related with (and key to attaining the) SDG 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 12.Most importantly, 50 percent population of Bangladesh are women and girls and a country cannot reach its peak of development, without considering half of the population’s betterment.
Writer: Khadiza Akter is a Programme Officer at the Gender and Water Alliance – Bangladesh (GWA-B). Email: [email protected]