The Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) of adolescent girls and women is still being neglected in Bangladesh, experts said.
But it is related with achieving several sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are connected with health, hygiene, education, women empowerment and equal opportunity, they opined.
In the country, girls have been facing a number of challenges in ensuring safe MHM.
These barriers are – poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, lack of knowledge on biological processes, and taboos restricting females’ behaviour during menstruation.
These barriers to ensure safe MHM affect girls’ health, psychological wellbeing and education.
One of the most prolific effects is monthly absenteeism from school.
A study shows that over 40 per cent girls do not attend school during menstruation for an average of three days in a month instigating bad school performance.
About 12 per cent have access to MHM-friendly toilets with water and soap, and 3.0 per cent have pad and disposal bins inside their toilets.
The main reason for missing school is lack of appropriate WASH facilities. Besides, 53 per cent girls do not have access to toilet with adequate privacy.
As many as 30 per cent girls face the same problem at their home, while 67 per cent girls do not attend schools, as they feel sick during menstruation.
Head of programmes of Red Orange Media and Communications Nakib Rajib Ahmed, who works on the issue, told the FE that MHM is directly linked with SDGs numbering three to six.
These SDGs involve healthy life and well being, quality education, women empowerment and proper sanitation.
Menstruation, a natural and normal process of adolescent and woman’s health, is still a hidden and silent word at family, state and social levels, he noted.
“We do not want to talk about menstruation as part of basic health of a girl. The issue of gaining knowledge and work for ensuring the rights cannot even be thought of,” he said.
As a result, adolescent girls (9-19 years) and women of reproductive age (15-49 years) face harassment at every stage of their life and fall victim to serious health risk.
Referring to the government’s policy initiative, Mr Nakib said there is a gap of knowledge about MHM and lack of proper action plan to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) at various stages.
Moreover, MHM is not an important issue for the policymakers although one-fifth of the country’s total population are adolescent, he added.
Referring to a study, conducted in 89 schools in Netrokona, Mr Nakib said 40 per cent reported that they miss school during menstruation.
Many female students do not get the stipend, as they do not have 80 per cent attendance, which is largely related with MHM, he added.
Another study shows, about 91 per cent school girls use old unhygienic cloths, while 9.0 per cent use improved products.
Above 90 per cent girls dispose pads un-hygienically, which is not environment-friendly.
About 86 per cent girls reported that improved menstrual items are not affordable for them.
Besides, 64 per cent of girls are not introduced with menstruation before menarche or its first occurrence.
The knowledge and practices on proper MHM among girls and women is very limited.
In the rural areas, only 10 per cent girls use improved menstrual products, while others use old cloths, rags, cotton or tissue.
In the urban areas, 21 per cent girls and women use improved products.
The rest of the women use old cloths for several menstrual cycles without proper cleaning, drying and laundering.
Reproductive tract infections are 70 per cent more common in women who use unhygienic alternatives.
Bangladesh Nari Progoti Sangha (BNPS) executive director Rokeya Kabir told the FE that MHM is related with two things – the SDGs and the commitment of Bangladesh government of ensuring equal opportunity for all.
If MHM cannot be modernised, girls and women will keep missing classes and remain absent from work.
But it is very important for their development, getting equal opportunity and contributing to the country.
“The family, society and state are equally responsible for ensuring safe MHM, considering it a practical need. They all have responsibilities in this area,” she added.