*Image credit UNICEF connect

Barriers to the maintenance of menstrual hygiene are not just limited to lack of facilities but are also rooted in belief that menstruation makes one impure and that talking about menstruation is not appropriate. 

Parents don’t talk about menstruation with their growing daughters and teachers do not discuss the issue with students. Facilitating information sharing and discussion on menstruation and the larger issue of physiological changes during adolescence are fundamental steps toward supporting girls in developing healthy self-esteem and
body confidence.

Improving Menstrual hygiene management in schools means improving quality

Every month, 1.8 billion people across the world
Menstrual Hygiene Management is a critical health, WASH and dignity issue and needs collaborative action by all to focus on 3 A’s - Access, Availability and Awareness of menstrual hygiene services.

Improving Menstrual hygiene management in schools means improving quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), thereby improving the lives of girls all over the world. As evident, MHM plays a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Several studies have found that MHM has a direct impact on girls' access to education. To increase enrolment and retention of girls in schools, a menstrual-friendly environment is extremely crucial. 

Recognizing the relevance of MHM to health and educational outcomes, the State has launched a series of interventions,menstruate with millions of them being girls who are unable to manage their menstrual cycle in a dignified and
 healthy manner.

Recognizing the relevance of MHM to health and educational outcomes, the State has launched a series of interventions,including the formation of State and District-level MHM committees for smooth implementation of the MHM programme, the formulation of District MHM Action Plans, and the use of local resources to create model MHM compliant districts. 

Collaborative consultations to identify strategic issues, with a particular emphasis on the needs of girls, are providing an important platform for tailoring solutions at the District, Gram Panchayat, and Village levels. 

In the course of mainstreaming MHM, the Government of Jharkhand, with the support of UNICEF, has achieved several milestones including the formulation of the State MHM Action Plan (2018- 2022) which focuses on the three A's of Access, Availability, and Awareness of menstrual hygiene services. 

In addition, the Swachh Bharat Mission–Gramin has ensured the development of technical designs for safe menstrual waste disposal units such as incinerators in collaboration with the Panchayati Raj Department and released a letter promoting manual/electric incinerators and Pad Vending machines.

In its efforts to address MHM issues, UNICEF created the MHM Toolkit for Social Behavior Change and Communication, which includes the books Paheli ki Saheli and Ammaji Kehti hai. UNICEF has also developed unique Menstrual Hygiene Labs in schools, which offers a dedicated space for girls to take rest during periods while also engaging girls and boys in learning new facts about menstruation. 

Schools are effectively utilizing this platform by forming peer groups, which in turn play an important role in ensuring active participation of all in not just MHM discussions but other day-to-day activities as well. The emphasis is on creating a culture of open discussion on menstruation and removing myths around it.

The regularization of these labs has added a great deal of joy and excitement among students, teachers, and even parents to have such a welcoming environment in schools. A similar step has been taken to develop first of its kind MHM Lab at the Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi with the support of UNICEF and World Vision India to address the psychological as well as menstrual needs of female patients and staff. 

Efforts are also being undertaken to address the menstrual hygiene needs of drop-out girls and community women by establishing MHM corners at Anganwadi centres.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS–5), nearly 88.2 percent of urban women aged 15–24 use hygienic means of protection during periods, up from 49.6 percent in the NFHS–4. There has been significant progress in terms of awareness and education, which must now be carried forward to the next stage. 

Collaborative actions among key departments and concerned stakeholders are needed to adequately invest in menstrual health and hygiene. A step in this direction is the state-specific MHM scheme for adolescent girls and women, which is being planned by the State following the formation of State and District-level MHM committees, to engage in demand-driven and sustainable solutions. 

Sustaining the efforts in ensuring MHM friendly atmosphere for our adolescent girls and women in the state is the foremost priority of UNICEF and the Government. UNICEF is committed to taking every possible step to create an enabling environment in which every girl and woman can reach her full potential.

Note: The author of this article is Parul Sharma. She is the Officer-in-Charge of UNICEF Jharkhand

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