Adolescence is the duration of biological and psychological human development from childhood into adulthood characterized by physical and interpersonal changes from ages 10 to 19. During this critical transition, adolescent girls undergo menarche, the onset of menstruation, the age at which, differs by ethnicity, geographical area, race and other factors. As a result, each month adolescent girls and adult women have found different methods to cope with menstruation until reaching menopause, essentially designing personal ways to manage their menstrual hygiene.
While menstruation is a natural physiological process in females, in some cultures it is encompassed by myths, taboos and secrecy. These beliefs, some helpful and others harmful, exclude girls and women from several aspects of social and cultural life. In parts of India, menstruating women are viewed as dirty and impure, and are prohibited from partaking in day to day activities. These restraints include but are not limited to not being able to handle food items for fear of contamination, not offering prayer or entering a temple, dietary restrictions such as not eating sour foods, and not being able to bathe. Additionally, cultural associations to evil, shame, and humiliation in some societies often lead women bury clothes worn during their menstrual cycles to keep them from being used by wicked spirits. These ideas negatively affect the emotional and mental health of young girls and because of adult silence around the discussion of sexual maturation, young girls are quite unprepared and unsupported to handle their menstrual cycles. Further, among such adolescent girls there is a lack of basic understanding and awareness of menstruation and the importance of menstrual hygiene. The incomplete and sometimes incorrect information they piece together comes from mothers, relatives, teachers, television and books. Thus girls begin their menstrual cycles without realizing what processes are taking place in their bodies.
Unhygienic menstrual practices can increase susceptibility to health issues such as reproductive tract infection, urinary tract infection and cervical cancer. If not detected and treated early, they could result in various gynaecological disabilities in women. These infections can be linked to higher risks of HIV and adverse pregnancy results. Ultimately, in order to lead healthy lives safe from infection or disease, women need to manage their menstrual cycles effectively, using clean water, hygiene products and facilities that allow for appropriate and safe disposal.
Considering the condition of menstrual hygiene in India, the objective of this research study is to first assess the current as-is scenario through primary data collection and then model the entire supply-chain from product availability to safe disposal. Furthermore, the research study will address the cultural myths and taboos surrounding menstruation that negatively impact the emotional and mental health of women and girls by delivering educational content through a mobile technology-based interactive system. Lastly, this research will also aim to improve the availability, affordability and disposal of safe and efficient sanitary napkins.
A proof-of-concept solution framework is also envisaged to demonstrate the practical use of a unique and transparent direct benefits transfer mechanism, leveraging the Indian government’s recent initiative of providing subsidised menstrual hygiene products to targeted beneficiaries.