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National Girl Child Day 2024: Menstrual Health In Rural India- Breaking The Silence And Fostering Well-being Among Adolescent Girls

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As the nation gears up to observe National Girl Child Day on Wednesday, January 24, we explore a fundamental requirement for young girls—menstrual hygiene. Despite being in the 21st century, the discussion surrounding menstruation continues to be considered taboo in our society. While strides are being made in urban areas to reduce the stigma and embarrassment associated with periods, regions with lower socio-economic status are still grappling with social anxiety related to this topic.

In recent years, menstruation has emerged as a critical yet under-addressed public health issue, particularly within tribal communities. Cultural norms and religious taboos surrounding menstruation are compounded by traditional associations with evil spirits, shame, anxiety, and embarrassment. This article delves into the efforts to break the silence and challenge menstrual taboos within tribal societies, exploring the empowerment initiatives and highlighting the persistent challenges.

Menstrual taboos continue to plague tribal communities, leading to embarrassment, shame, and unhygienic practices. The lack of disposal facilities forces young girls to change sanitary napkins in open spaces, contributing to the perpetuation of period-related taboos. Initiatives to break this silence involve education, awareness campaigns, and destigmatizing menstruation as a normal biological process.

In the heart of Jawadhu hills, I had a profound experience during our camp that shed light on the silent challenges faced by adolescent girls in tribal communities. A poignant moment unfolded as I witnessed a 13-year-old girl changing her sanitary napkin in the open, her face marked by embarrassment. This incident served as a stark reminder of the stark realities endured by many young girls in these tribal villages.

In the tribal villages of Jawadhu hills, numerous challenges exacerbate menstrual taboos. The unavailability of proper disposal methods leads to heaping used napkins, causing health risks. Girls, fearing humiliation, resort to open areas for toilets, resulting in missed school days and increased vulnerability to reproductive infections.

Deep-rooted cultural beliefs, lack of infrastructure, and limited access to resources pose significant hurdles. The absence of adequate infrastructure is glaring, with numerous students resorting to open toilets in the forest due to a lack of proper facilities.

Insufficient water supply compels them to utilize open areas for their sanitary needs, contributing to environmental pollution and disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem. A disturbing practice I observed was the haphazard disposal of used napkins, often heaped together due to the absence of disposal mechanisms.

Beyond the environmental implications, the health risks faced by these young girls are alarming. Many still rely on makeshift solutions like using used dress materials or other unsterilized cloths instead of proper napkins. This not only perpetuates a cycle of infections but also highlights the pressing need for education and access to menstrual hygiene products.

India, with 8.6% of its population in tribal communities, faces the daunting task of eradicating period poverty and menstrual taboos. Insufficient infrastructure, open toilets, and lack of sanitation facilities contribute to serious health risks for girls, including future infertility and pregnancy complications.

Shattering menstrual taboos necessitates a multi-faceted approach. Empowering women through education, increasing their role in decision-making, and providing sanitary napkins

are crucial steps. Addressing deep-rooted cultural beliefs requires the involvement of communities, governments, NGOs, and individuals in a collaborative effort.

While progress has been made in challenging menstrual taboos in tribal communities, significant challenges persist. The road ahead requires sustained efforts from various stakeholders to address cultural beliefs, provide access to resources, and empower women through education. Breaking the silence surrounding menstruation is not just about hygiene; it is about fostering inclusivity and creating a more enlightened society.

To eradicate menstrual taboos in tribal communities, a holistic approach is imperative. Low-cost menstrual products, gender-inclusive education for men and boys, and the integration of health education into physical infrastructure projects are vital components. Empowering women through education and fostering inclusivity are central to creating a more equitable society.

(The writer of the article Punitha is an IT professional and social activist who volunteered in various NGOs. She was born in a village called Elavamalai in Erode district, Tamil Nadu. She is on the mission of ending period poverty in Tribal Schools of Jawadhu hills, TamilNadu.)

 



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