The coverage of rural sanitation facilities is generally better in Bangladesh. Although water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) related information is available in different policies and strategy papers, the coverage of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) friendly WaSH facilities is yet to be measured.
The hygiene situation in Bangladesh
According to Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey 2014, around one-tenth (rural: 10%, urban: 21%) of adolescents and a quarter of adult women (rural: 10%, urban: 33%) used disposable pads during menstruation. Reusable cloth is more the norm. Among students, a small proportion (10%) said to use disposable pads, more common among urban students (rural: 9%, urban: 21%). Most surveyed households used old cloth (86%), some of whom do not use soap or an improved water source for washing and rinsing and many dry cloth in hidden place.
As many as 40% of surveyed girls reported that they miss school during menstruation and 31% thought that menstrual problems interfere with their school performance. Only 45% of the surveyed schools had toilets accessible for students, a quarter were clean and <5% of schools had separate facilities for girls that offered optimal conditions for menstrual health management.
Reasons for poor MHM in the rural area
Menstrual hygiene is a taboo subject; a topic that many women are uncomfortable discussing in public, even in their families. The taboos and rituals surrounding menstruation exclude women and girls from aspects of social and cultural life.
The lack of affordable and context specific menstrual hygiene management products in the rural area is a major obstacle for a hygienic practice. The existing products on the market are costly and with that beyond the reach of most of the women in the urban communities.
There is no viable commercially available menstrual hygiene management product like sanitary napkins for the rural population. It is often thought that the lack of financial capacity is a major setback to implement menstrual hygiene issues at the household level in rural area. But in reality situation was found quite to the contrary. Awareness and motivation worked for many households very effectively.
The way forward
Mass awareness is a significant catalyst to influence the greater society and can facilitate the introduction of MHM at the family level. The education of the family members, especially the female members, are vital to make menstrual hygiene at the forefront of discussion.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) offer a great strategy on the journey of development. Unfortunately, menstrual hygiene management is a grey area. There is a dire need of work for a vast portion of the communities. MHM is one of the issues of the action plan under the target of SDG 6. Separate budget allocation by school management for MHM friendly toilets and its maintenance is a must. School girls need to be provided with low cost sanitary pads to help them continue attending school during menstruation. A public private partnership needs to be established to mitigate the whole situation.
The writer is the Director, Research, Planning and Monitoring at Development Organisation of the Rural Poor (DORP). E-mail: email@example.com