Tag Archives: menstruation hygiene management

Is Bollywood’s Pad Man movie too good to be true?

Checking the facts and assumptions about menstrual hygiene in developing countries.

Mensrual hygiene painting-crop

Painting by students of the Dr. M.M. den Hertogschool, The Hague, on the importance of menstrual hygiene management and school WASH. Photo: IRC

March 8th was International Women’s Day. Which approach to menstrual hygiene management fits best with this year’s theme urging everyone to #PressforProgress on gender parity? Is it pressing for access to affordable menstrual products or is there more to it?

A few weeks ago, I joined a group of my female colleagues and family to watch “Pad Man”, the Bollywood film inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham.  He is an acclaimed Indian social activist and entrepreneur who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. Muruganantham famously tested sanitary pads on himself, using a bladder with animal blood, while riding his bicycle. “Pad Man” is a feel good, uplifting movie. We left the cinema dancing to the tune of the Pad Man Song.

Too good to be true?

But then, a few days later an IRC colleague from India referred us to a blog that claimed to tell the “real story” about the man, who “shot to fame by selling shame”. The author, Sinu Joseph, is Managing Trustee of the Myrthi Speaks Trust, a Bengaluru-based social activist group working on issues including menstrual health and sanitation. Sinu had initially been involved in distributing Mr. Muruganantham’s sanitary pads until angry mothers complained that she was “trying to get rid of some cheap stuff by dumping it” on their daughters.

Fact check

Sinu counters several of the “facts” mentioned in “Pad Man”, which are also regularly quoted in the media. The first is that Indian women use ash, sand and husks as menstrual absorbents and consequently suffer “from Reproductive Tract Infections for want of a Pad”.  Sinu has found no evidence of this, both from her own experience and the literature. In fact, she says there is no evidence linking the use of menstrual products such as cloth to any menstrual disorder.

Second is the widely quoted statistic that only 12% of Indian women use sanitary napkins. Wrong again, says Sinu: the National Family Health Study of 2015-16 found that the real number is 57.6% , 48.5% in rural, 77.5% in urban areas. Finally, there is no evidence that girls in India drop out of school owing to menstruation and the lack of sanitary napkins. Similar findings emerged from a 2010 study in Nepal, which at the time was not welcomed by the pro-sanitary napkin development lobby.

A developing country problem?

The evidence Sinu refers to, comes from a review of 90 papers, which Myrthi Speaks conducted in 2016. The review not only dispels the “facts” mentioned above but also challenges the assumption that developing countries have a greater prevalence of menstrual disorders than in the West. In fact, the review found that the opposite is true. In developed nations, a higher percentage of adult women and adolescents suffer from heavy bleeding and painful or irregular periods than in developing countries.

Shame

So why has the real-life Pad Man attracted so much uncritical support? Is it because this unlikely hero, an uneducated man, took it upon himself to elevate Indian women from their shameful state? Indeed, most of the women in the Pad Man movie are portrayed as ignorant, led by superstition. In Sinu’s words, “shame has been sold to us in a nice package with celebrity endorsements”.

Glorifying traditional practices?

Sinu has been criticised for promoting the traditional practice of seclusion, which she says provides women who are part of joint families “privacy and comfort during menstruation”. A 2015 blog by Eco Femme, an Indian social enterprise producing washable sanitary pads, said that Sinu neglects those women who experience being excluded as degrading. Harrowing stories about the illegal Nepali practice of Chhaupadi, where girls are forced to spend their periods in cattle sheds, come to mind. The Pad Man film similarly condemns the segregation of women during menstruation.

Interestingly, Arunachalam Muruganantham, Sinu Joseph, Eco Femme, along with many development agencies all claim that they understand women’s needs. Whose view do you support? Or have they all got it wrong?

This blog was originally posted on the IRC website.

Update, 21 March 2018

On 16 March 2018 a TEDxKLETech talk by Sinu Joseph on the “Super science behind Menstrual practices” carried the following warning by TEDx “This talk contains several assertions about Ayurveda that are not supported by studies in gynecological medicine. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful as a complementary approach, please do not look to this talk for medical advice”.

In A First, Kerala Makes Sanitary Napkin Vending Machines Mandatory In All Schools

In A First, Kerala Makes Sanitary Napkin Vending Machines Mandatory In All Schools. India Times, May 19, 2017.

Kerala has become the first state in India to make sanitary napkin vending machines mandatory in all higher secondary schools. mhd-india

With just weeks left for the schools in the state to reopen after summer vacations, the government has mandated all schools to have vending machines from the beginning of the new academic year.

Read the complete article.

12th SuSanA Thematic Discussion: “Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in Schools – A neglected issue”

While nowadays the topic of MHM is gaining more and more attention, it has widely been neglected in the past. SDG4 (education), SDG5 (gender equality) and SDG6 (water and sanitation) require female friendly sanitation facilities and available informational materials at schools around the globe.

Taking into account the magnitude of the population affected by issues around MHM, schools provide an ideal environment to reach girls as well as young women and to address taboos and misconceptions in a culturally sensitive manner.

The question, however, is how to approach the topic in a culturally sensitive manner?

Running for two weeks from today (March 27 until April 09) the discussion on the SuSanA forum will look at two areas:

Week 1: Breaking the taboo around MHM                                           Thematic Lead: Dr. Marni Sommer (Associate Professor, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health)

 Week 2: Infrastructural barriers and how to monitor MHM            Thematic Lead: Thérèse Mahon (Regional Programme Manager South Asia, WaterAid)

During the discussion, regular summaries of forum entries will be posted to keep you updated on our conversation.

Coordination on behalf of the SuSanA secretariat for this thematic discussion will be carried out by Dr. Bella Monse, Jan Schlenk and Mintje Büürma. For any questions, you can post on the forum or contact us directly at info@susana.org.

To join the discussion, follow: http://bit.ly/2nZn4n6

And to read the first contribution by Marni Sommer, click on: http://bit.ly/2n9JLkv

Potential PhD in Menstrual Hygiene Management at WEDC, Loughborough University

The Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), UK, is exploring the possibility of supporting a student to carry out PhD research related to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). In some exceptional cases, funding for international students may be considered under the WEDC scholarship programmes. In all cases, very strong academic credentials and an outstanding research idea will be expected.

If you are interested contact Dr. Julie Fisher outlining your relevant experience, qualifications and area of interest by 31 August 2012.

Related publication:
Crofts, T. and Fisher, J., 2012. Menstrual hygiene in Ugandan schools: an investigation of low-cost sanitary pads. Journal of water, sanitation and hygiene for development ; vol. 2, no. 1 ; p. 50-58. Available at: <https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/handle/2134/9399>

WEDC fact sheet – Menstruation hygiene management for schoolgirls in low-income countries

Instructions on how to make a basic cloth sanitary pad. From the WEDC factsheet on Menstruation hygiene management for schoolgirls.

WEDC has produced a usual fact sheet on the problems experienced by menstruating schoolgirls in low-income countries. Although its focus is predominantly sub-Saharan Africa, many of the issues raised are relevant to girls in most low-income countries, although there may be differences in popular practice and beliefs. The fact sheet also evaluates simple solutions to these problems including the use of low-cost sanitary pads, and suggests ways in which menstruation hygiene management (MHM) can be included in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. It considers how menstrual practices are affected by cultural beliefs and the lack of education both at home and at school.

Crofts, T., 2012. Menstruation hygiene management for schoolgirls in low-income countries. (WEDC fact sheet ; 7). Loughborough, UK, Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC). 8 p. Available at: <wedc.lboro.ac.uk/resources/factsheets/FS007_MHM_A4_Pages.pdf>