New Delhi: Data from the government’s family and health survey for 2015-2016 shows that lakhs of Indian women do not use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual cycles.
In the age group of 15-24, only 57.6% of women use hygienic methods. This means that 42.4% of women use unhygienic methods of protection or perhaps no protection at all.
The Central government has been trying to increase information about menstruation and thus reduce the stigma around it through various awareness campaigns and programmes. “Menstrual hygiene management is a priority for us. We understand that in order to empower adolescent girls to live a healthy and dignified life, menstruation needs to be recognised as a health concept,” says Dr Ajay Khera, deputy commissioner in the Union health ministry.
Among those who do use hygienic methods, sanitary napkins are most popular with a 42% uptake. Meanwhile, 62% of women surveyed use cloth. The government’s survey considers locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins and tampons to be “hygienic methods of protection,” whereas cloth and other methods are considered unhygienic.
The number is of course much higher in urban areas – at 77.5% – but a worryingly low figure of 48.2% of women in rural India use hygienic protection.
The data also shows that the more schooling a woman has, the likelier it is that she will use a hygienic method. For example, only 19.95% of women with no schooling use hygienic methods, whereas 80.9% of women who have had at least 12 years of schooling use hygienic methods.
Across major religious groups, Hindus and Muslims are at a similar level of usage of hygienic methods, very close to the national percentage –57.6% – with 57.3% of Hindu women making use of hygienic methods and 53.9% of Muslim women doing the same. Scheduled Caste women are also close to the national rate, with 54.5% women using hygienic methods. Scheduled Tribe women lag behind – at 40.3%.
A study published in 2018 showed a large number of girls being restricted from participating in religious activities during their period, and they also missed school.
The government has introduced a programme called ‘Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram’ to bring discussions on menstrual health and hygiene and menstrual hygiene products to women and adolescent girls. Khera believes this increased access to hygienic menstrual options increases admissions of girls in schools as well, and so the government “aims to make schools a key platform for improving the menstrual hygiene ecosystem in India.”
In order to collect this data, women were asked what they used for protection “to prevent blood stains from becoming evident.”
The previous health survey for 2005-2006 did not collect information on this issue. The 2015-2016 survey asked women other related questions, like when they had their last period, whether they have had a hysterectomy and so on.