Menstrual hygiene, a very important risk factor for reproductive tract infections, is a vital aspect of health education for adolescent girls. Educational television programmes, trained school nurses/health personnel, motivated school teachers and knowledgeable parents can play a very important role in transmitting the vital message of correct menstrual hygiene to the adolescent girl of today.
WHAT IS MENSTRUATION?
Menstruation is a phenomenon unique to females and is the process in which a woman discharges blood and other material from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until the menopause, except during pregnancy. This onset of menstruation is one of the most important changes occurring among the girls during the adolescent years. The first menstruation (menarche) occurs between 11 and 15 years with a mean of 13 years. It is a very natural process that is sadly still plagued by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions resulting in adolescent girls remaining ignorant of the scientific facts and hygienic health practices, which sometimes result into adverse health outcomes.
The reaction to menstruation depends upon awareness and knowledge about the subject. The manner in which a girl learns about menstruation and its associated changes may have an impact on her response to the event of menarche.
EFFECTS OF MENSTRUATION ON A GIRL’S LIFE
- Education: girls may miss school due to improper facilities or lack of supplies during their periods
- Health: use of inadequate menstruation materials often lead to infections such as the reproductive tract infection
- Dignity: girls often suffer from discomfort, face teasing and shaming especially from boys and also have to experience being excluded from everyday activities
- Participation: the fear of leaks (stains) and shaming, discomfort and pain from cramps can cause girls to be distracted and less attentive or productive in school, work and other activities
- Economics: women who work often find they have to miss work due to associated pains, discomfort or inaccessibility to needed supplies.
WHY IS MENSTRUAL HYGIENE IMPORTANT?
Hygiene-related practices of women during menstruation are of considerable importance, as it has a health impact in terms of increased vulnerability to Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI). The interplay of socio-economic status, menstrual hygiene practices and RTI are noticeable. Today millions of women are sufferers of RTI and its complications and often the infection is transmitted to the offspring of the pregnant mother.
Women having better knowledge regarding menstrual hygiene and safe practices are less vulnerable to RTI and its consequences. Therefore, increased knowledge about menstruation right from childhood may escalate safe practices and may help in mitigating the suffering of millions of women.
Reproductive tract infections, which has become a silent epidemic that devastates women’s life is closely interrelated with poor menstrual hygiene. Therefore, proper menstrual hygiene and correct perceptions and beliefs can protect the womenfolk from this suffering. Before bringing any change in menstrual practices, the girls should be educated about the facts of menstruation, physiological implications, about the significance of menstruation and development of secondary sexual characteristics, and above all, about proper hygienic practices with selection of disposable sanitary menstrual absorbent. This can be achieved through educational television programmes, school nurses/health personnel, compulsory sex education in school curriculum and knowledgeable parents, so that her received education would indirectly wipe away the age-old wrong ideas and make her feel free to discuss menstrual matters including cleaner practices without any hesitation. All mothers irrespective of their educational status should be taught to break their inhibitions about discussing with their daughters regarding menstruation much before the age of menarche.
Lack of privacy is an important problem. In resource poor contexts, where women do not have access to basic facilities such as water, bathroom and privacy, the standard of hygiene one can maintain is severely compromised. There is a need to improve the housing conditions with respect to basic facilities. Universalized use of sanitary pads can be advocated to every girl only by making it available at affordable prices.
Ignorance, false perceptions, unsafe practices regarding menstruation and reluctance of the mother to educate her child are issues that need tackling head on.