Menstrual health is one of the most visible yet under-prioritized gender-related concerns, which is sadly segmented as a women’s problem rather than being recognized as a public health challenge and an obstacle to nation-building. Most women and girls menstruate every month, but in India, menstrual health is still a low-priority issue plagued by taboos, shame, ignorance, and a lack of cleanliness and menstrual products.
What’s the connection between menstruation and human rights?
Human rights are rights that every human being possesses as a result of his or her dignity. Menstruation is inextricably linked to human dignity; when people lack access to clean bathing facilities and reliable methods for managing their menstrual hygiene, they are unable to manage their periods with dignity. Teasing, marginalization, and shame associated with menstruation also violate the notion of human dignity.
During menstruation, societal constraints infringe on women’s right to health, equality, and privacy. Several anecdotes suggest that during menstruation, women and girls are kept in isolation, not permitted to visit religious buildings or kitchens, play outside, or even attend school. Hence, rather than focusing solely on distributing sanitary pads, a community-based approach that educates both men and women is urgently needed.
The following is a list of widely recognized human rights that can be jeopardized by the treatment of women and girls during menstruation:
Right to health – When people with uterus lack the materials and facilities to manage their menstrual health, they may suffer negative health repercussions. Menstruation stigma can also discourage them from seeking treatment for period problems like periodic cramps, irregular periods, heavy period flow and others limiting their access to the best possible health and well-being.
Right to education– According to certain studies, many Indian girls are compelled to drop out of school as soon as they reach puberty. Inability to manage menstrual hygiene, lack of a safe space, low educational performance as well as a lack of medication to relieve menstruation-related pain are all factors that can limit their educational opportunities.
Right to work– Menstruating women are seen as an issue by many employers, who connect periods with inefficiency at work and lower involvement in the workforce. Anecdotal evidence exists of corporate organizations being insensitive to menstruation women for fear of losing productivity. In addition, menstruation taboos may lead to workplace discrimination against women and girls.
Right to gender equality– Menstrual stigmas and norms can promote discriminatory actions. Gender inequalities are also perpetuated by menstruation-related barriers to school, job, health services, and public activities.
What measures can be taken to effect the change?
The time has come to focus on a plan that brings together key government agencies — such as health, education, women’s and children’s development, and rural development, among others — and enhances accountability on issues connected to menstrual health management. The way forward is a community-based approach in which local influencers and decision-makers are educated about the issue and behavioural change initiatives targeting men and women are implemented to dispel myths and prejudices. There is also a significant possibility to form public-private partnerships to promote such programmes and boost rural and semi-urban women’s access to cheap menstrual hygiene products.
It is critical to recognize that menstruation health is a human rights issue, not only a women’s concern.