Improving Menstrual Health and Hygiene

Dasra’s report Spot On! highlights key challenges and solutions to improving menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls, along with the most impactful and scalable social organizations to fund.

An issue characterized by cultural taboos and superstitions, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in India is challenged by:
  • Lack of Awareness: 200 million girls in India lack awareness of menstrual hygiene and associated healthcare practices.
  • Unavailability of Material: 88% of menstruating women in India use home-grown alternatives such as old fabric, rags, sand, ash, wood shavings, newspapers, dried leaves, hay and plastic.
  • Lack of Access to Facilities: 63 million adolescent girls live in homes without toilet facilities.
Addressing menstrual health and hygiene generates a triple return on investment with improved outcomes in health, education and environment:
  • Education: Lack of functioning toilets results in 23% adolescent girls dropping out of school every year
  • Environment: A single use disposable pad is estimated to take between 500 – 800 years to decompose
Dasra has identified four key focus areas to build a strong and enabling environment to improve menstrual health and hygiene in India:
  • Educate mothers: The mother is usually the principal point of contact when a girl first gets her period. However, 70% mothers interviewed in a survey in India considered menses 'dirty' and 'polluting'
  • Create an enabling environment in schools: Teachers become the most significant source of information for girls especially when mothers are an inadequate source of information. Schools provide a platform to educate and prepare a critical mass of girls on menstrual hygiene best practices.
  • Offer cloth and other locally produced alternatives: Widespread unavailability, unaffordability and non-biodegradability of commercially marketed sanitary pads underscore the need to promote alternatives
  • Promote health seeking behavior: More than 90% of menstrual problems are preventable if they are detected and treated at an early stage by appropriate methods
The focus areas are manifested on the ground through the following interventions undertaken by social organizations in the sector:
  • Training stakeholders: Since menstruation is a taboo topic, even those responsible for spreading awareness do not have the correct information. Hence, it is critical to train the trainers such as community health workers, and teachers on best practices for managing menstruation.
  • Creating peer leaders:  Girls tend to discuss menstrual problems and develop solutions with their peers. Peer leaders act as models, mentors, educators or counselors for their peer groups, as well as inspire them through their own example.
  • Mobilizing communities: It is critical to engage important decision-makers such as men, older women, panchayat leaders to create an enabling environment for ensuring better MHM. To truly mobilize a community and the most important gatekeepers, an intensive awareness campaign accompanied by regular meetings and events is required.
  • Leveraging government schemes: The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has been taking positive steps by studies integrating MHM into its schemes. Non-profit organizations guide communities to leverage these schemes to address the issue of availability of sanitary material and to build requisite infrastructure.
  • Supporting Self-Help Groups (SHGs): Several social businesses have developed machines that can produce low-cost sanitary napkins. These organizations use existing SHGs to promote these machines and methods. SHGs are part of the community therefore making it easier for them to approach girls and women, drive change around menstrual habits, and promote sanitary material.
  • Creating awareness: Most common intervention used to break the silence on MHM and provide information on health, nutrition and sanitary material options for better period management.
  • Developing innovative solutions: Social enterprises and non-profit organizations have been experimenting in product design, environment-friendly materials, disposal solutions, and simplified, cost-effective production processes
  • Building/Renewing infrastructure: Some organizations are working to address the lack of facilities by building or renovating toilets in schools and communities. Organizations should partner with organizations in the sanitation sector to implement this intervention, since it is capital-intensive.
  • Establishing production units: To address the issue of lack of supply of sanitary materials, some organizations are producing napkins for areas neglected by larger, established companies.
  • Ensuring last-mile delivery of products 70% of India lives in 600,000 villages. Non- profits are establishing or supporting women entrepreneurs in  villages, to sell sanitary napkins by linking them to a supply source and training them to educate the community on MHM best practices
  • Fund high impact organizations that have been identified by Dasra after an assessment of from a universe of 203 organizations.
  • Contact one of these organizations to explore opportunities to partner or volunteer
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