Menstruation is a normal biological process which maintains the female reproductive cycle. Without this process, there would be no ovulation and hence, no reproduction. This topic remains elusive and is even considered taboo in different parts of the world. In developing countries like India, women have to deal with menstruation secretly. Poverty, gender inequality and repressive conditioning of women folks continue to deny access to proper menstrual hygiene products.
In India, out of the total 355 million menstruating women, only 42.6% use the most basic form of menstrual hygiene product, namely disposable sanitary pads. This means that only 12 % of Indian women use sanitary pads. Lack of awareness and socio-cultural beliefs that render menstruation as a dirty phase in women’s lives have long deprived women access to proper menstrual hygiene management.
In rural India, where the taboo related to menstrual hygiene is even stronger, many girls are forced to leave school out of fear of public shaming and discomfort. An NGO named Dasra surveyed in 2014, and the resulting report states that nearly 23 million girls drop out of schools at menarche. This is a disturbing figure that states the condition of women who deal with menstruation without proper aid, as a result of which they face health risks in periods.
Menstrual Hygiene Management- How Important Is It?
It is the fundamental right of every woman to be able to manage her menstruation hygienically. But does that mean that those who have access to commercial sanitary pads or tampons are safe from health risks in periods? The answer is ‘No.’
It might be your choice to use biodegradable menstrual hygiene products or commercially available sanitary pads, tampons or menstrual cups. But the concern is about the maintenance of hygienic practices during menstruation so that you are not exposed to health risks in periods.
Menstrual Hygiene Management is defined by United Nations as the use of clean menstrual management products to soak menstrual discharge by women that are changeable in privacy as required, with proper access to water, soap and disposal methods. If hygienic practices are not followed during menstruation like changing pads every 4 hours, washing and drying out reusable sanitary towels properly in the sun and washing hands after handling used sanitary pads; then the chances of getting Urogenital tract infection increases many folds.
Reasons That Account for Poor Menstrual Hygiene in Women
Poverty is one of the top reasons that force women to resort to unhygienic menstrual absorbents use. Rural women in developing nations have been reported to use things like mud, old rags, dried cow dung cakes, wood husk, and even ash to contain menstrual blood. Not only are these things dangerous to the health, but they are also inconvenient to use and hinder day to day activity of women who use them.
Regressive menstruation beliefs in many societies forbid women to dry their menstrual clothes in the sun. They are washed during the night and dried in dark areas. These act as breeding ground for germs and their use causes infection or reproductive and urinary tract infections in women.
Lack of awareness regarding the importance of menstrual hygiene, arising from a lack of education and taboo surrounding menstruation, contribute in a major way why menstruating women do not know the use of menstrual hygiene products. They continue using traditional methods in hiding and expose themselves to health risks in periods.
5 Health Risks That Can Result from Poor Menstrual Hygiene
According to BBC Magazine, around 70 % of the reproductive infections in Indian women are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. There are grave health risks in periods if adequate sanitary measures are not taken.
- Infection of Reproductive Tract: Contaminated products used to contain menstrual blood are breeding grounds for several bacteria like Salmonella, Staphylococcus and E. coli. These bacteria can multiply rapidly in the reproductive tract starting from the cervix and upwards. They can enter the bloodstream directly from the mucosal membrane which is highly permeable. This can lead to sepsis and related complication.
Dangerous bacteria can also invade the genital tract and can cause Reproductive Tract Infection which is not transmitted sexually. Not changing sanitary napkins frequently can contribute to moisture retention and accelerate the growth of harmful microorganisms.
A contaminated product can alter the pH of the vaginal region. This causes a change in the microflora of the area, thus increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis. The common symptoms exhibited by women suffering from RTI are genital itching, back pain, abdominal pain, pustules over genitalia and abnormal genital discharge.
- Urinary Tract Infection: This is the most common form of infection that is present in women practicing poor menstrual hygiene. UTI presents one of the most serious health risks in periods where hygiene is compromised. When harmful bacteria invade the urinary tract, they can irritate the mucosal region and cause infection. If left untreated, it can develop into a serious complication.
Improper washing of external genitalia, washing with only water, washing genitalia from back to front and using unhygienic products as absorbents are the reasons for UTI during menstruation.
- Yeast Infections: Candidiasis is a yeast infection which can be caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Candida albicans is an opportunistic microbe that can cause infection in the reproductive tract and urinary tract. Vulvovaginal candidiasis can affect 75% of women of reproductive stage and is mostly asymptomatic.
- Hepatitis B Infection: Hepatitis B is easily transmitted through bodily fluids, including menstrual discharge. Hence it is important to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after and before changing sanitary napkins. The same is true for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, candidiasis and Trichomonas infection.
- Increased Risk of Cervical Cancer: Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix or the uterine opening which is predominantly caused by the Human Papilloma Virus. 132000 Indian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer per year. Lack of menstrual hygiene is a major factor that contributes to the development of this disease.
No women should live with the shame of menstruation or suffer in silence. The spread of menstrual awareness and use of hygienic products to deal with menstruation are the best ways to avoid health risks in periods.