Women in India’s Kashmir region are running into health problems as a result of inadequate menstrual hygiene, according to the Kashmir Monitor. The women’s accounts point to the global risks for 500 million women and girls who lack access to sanitation to manage their periods safely.
Two women recently disclosed to doctors that they felt too afraid to tell family members about medical conditions that resulted from poor menstrual health. Local doctors are now stressing the importance of addressing the stigma attached to periods and promoting improved sanitation and education.
One woman, 22, who goes by Rehana in the Kashmir Monitor story, said she had to receive medical treatment for recurring genital boils. Rehana didn’t feel comfortable telling her mother and instead confided in a friend. Dr. Rahila Yousuf, a consultant gynecologist at Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial Hospital in Rainawari, Kashmir, said Rehana’s boils returned due to poor menstrual hygiene.
When people who menstruate turn to their friends to learn about menstruation instead of their family or educators, they might receive misinformation and opt to use unsafe supplies or not take proper care of themselves. Open dialogues about periods help promote safer practices and prevent medical complications related to menstruation.
Another young woman, Shazi, 16, said she stopped talking to her mother about her period after she developed rashes in her genitals during menstruation. Doctors discovered Shazi had a urinary tract infection (UTI) and treated her with anti-fungal drugs.
Lack of resources to safely manage menstruation can have deadly consequences. Yousuf said common medical conditions caused by unhealthy menstrual management, from UTIs to rashes to bacterial vaginitis, can also increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Only 12% of people who menstruate have access to sanitary products in India, and that means the rest, especially those who are low income, often resort to using unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as an alternative. It has been estimated that as many as 1 in 5 girls in India drops out of school after they get their periods because they don’t have access to safe facilities or period products.
The solution doesn’t lie in products alone and requires access to resources like handwashing facilitites and clean water as well, according to menstrual health advocate Dr. Auqfeen Nisar, who led a campaign to fight period stigma.
“The shift in attitudes and behavior towards better hygiene is also much needed for which we work on social norms and patriarchal systems,” she told the Kashmir Monitor.
Advocates suggest communities educate girls and boys on menstruation at an early age at home and school to promote healthy habits and break stigmas.