Female Hygiene and sanitation have remained an issue for many years now. Several countries are facing the issue pertaining to Female hygiene and in this regard, many government initiatives as well as NGOs are coming forth to work on resolving the issue to some extent, however, it still remains a topic of concern. The issue is of immense importance globally because 2 billion people in the world are living without having access to even basic sanitation facilities (JMP, 2017). And it is even worse in the case of females, as they face more challenges due to their menstruation as well as pregnancy and the issue of basic sanitation makes those far more unhygienic and difficult to manage.
The issue needs to be addressed on global platforms and steps need to be taken as it will not only help in improving feminine health and hygiene but will also help in managing the waste properly. In addition to this, research also shows that safe water and female hygiene facilities can decrease the risk of infections up to 25% in infants and mothers which can cause death.
Now, the issue with context to Pakistan becomes more problematic as compared to other countries.
Menstrual hygiene and sanitation have always been a taboo in Pakistan and is not given any importance. Although it’s a natural process and should be treated like one, most people in Pakistan, due to illiteracy and societal norms simply fail to understand the sensitivity of the topic and consider it to be a matter that should be confined to the individual rather than the society.
Pakistan with a population of 221 million people, ranks as the 7th worst country in terms of access to sanitation as 42% of its total population in the country is living without access to basic sanitation and hygiene facilities.
It is worst in the case of female hygiene and sanitation because of multiple societal issues which include cultural aspects, religious aspects, the role of gender and the topic being unmentionable. Looking at the statistics, the female population of Pakistan is 49.2% according to the data by (countrymeters, 2020), which itself gives sufficient justifications for the topic ‘Female Hygiene’ to be a societal issue rather than an individual one.
Pakistan, being a developing country, also lacks facilities for menstrual hygiene management. Data reveals that 79% of the women in Pakistan are not even able to manage their periods hygienically (Ullah, 2017). Even schools don’t play a part in providing any guidance to teenage girls about the menstruation cycle and its management.
Furthermore, there is a stigma attached to the topic because of which females don’t have the courage to talk about the topic publicly and consider it to be a shameful act. Painfully enough, even the ads of these products are seen as a terrible thing in most households. Moreover, when it comes to buying the products, supermarkets keep brown bags to carry those items as if they are something to be ashamed of.
There are many organizations working for this cause and are doing great work. However, it still remains an issue that needs to be addressed on governmental basis and needs immediate solutions to solve it.
There are countless exemplary steps taken regarding women's hygiene by many countries all over the world. One such case is of New Zealand where its government recently announced the distribution of free sanitary pads in schools. The government has invested $2.6 million for this project (RNZ, 2020). Among the many reasons for implementing such a project is that many students stay at home during their menopausal days because of the unavailability of products. This will not only assist in enhancing the education level but also in reducing child poverty, as basic education is a fundamental right for all and gives the younger generation a shot at pulling themselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
Furthermore, India took impressive measures in 2018 despite women's hygiene being a taboo there (Bhatia, 2019). After the release of the movie ‘Pad man,’ sanitary napkins vending machines had been installed at multiple places, including educational institutes, stations, airports, etc. Pink toilets were installed that were more women-friendly in the sense that these included sanitary napkin vending machines, breastfeeding tables, incinerators, and Pad Banks. Pad Banks were installed to provide pads free to those women who could not afford to pay for it. In addition to this, the government exempted sanitary pads from the Goods and Services Tax (GST). These measures blew away the cloud of taboo that had hovered over women's hygiene since years.
Apart from the measures taken by the governments, the World Bank has also initiated and partnered with many programs that work for the betterment of women's hygiene. For instance, a sub-component of the new educational plan in Liberia included the assurance of the facilities for menstrual hygiene management that comes under the development of WASH programs incorporated by the World Bank in many different countries around the world. Similarly, the WASH initiative in Ethiopia regards menstrual hygiene management as a fundamental aspect in the objectives aimed towards enhancing the education system (The World Bank, 2018).
According to the analysis done above, the following recommendations may help Pakistan and various other countries to tackle women hygiene-related problems:
Design female-friendly sanitation facilities in public places as many women around the world do not have the financial capabilities to afford these necessities.
Either exempt or reduce the tax on pads and other women hygiene goods to make it accessible to all.
Initiate programs to provide menstrual products free of cost to those who cannot afford these.
Include the menstrual hygiene management in the school curriculum to spread awareness because one of the root causes of such issues is the lack of recognition.
Provide either free or on discounts, the sanitary napkins to schoolgirls as periods is one of the main causes for their absences in school. Apart from the sanitary napkins, pain killers must also be available at schools to make it comfortable for girls to attend classes with ease while going through menstrual cycles.
Devise programs aimed towards engaging women in learning and knowledge management on menstrual hygiene management.
Spread awareness regarding women's hygiene to men as they are usually the decision-makers of the families in Pakistan. This will convey the significance of maintaining menstrual hygiene and also reduce the taboo effect.
Bhatia, A. (2019, Jan 3). From The Movie PadMan To Sanitary Pads Being Exempted From GST, 2018 Saw Menstrual Hygiene Come Out Of The Closet. Retrieved from swachhindia: https://swachhindia.ndtv.com/year-ender-2018-menstrual-hygiene-steps-taken-by-india-29235/
countrymeters. (2020). Pakistan Population. Retrieved from Country meters: https://countrymeters.info/en/Pakistan
JMP. (2017). Drinking water, sanitation and hygiene service levels. Retrieved from JMP (WHO - UNICEF): https://washdata.org/data/household#!/dashboard/new
RNZ. (2020, Jun 3). Government to provide free sanitary items in schools. Retrieved from RNZ: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/418173/government-to-provide-free-sanitary-items-in-schools
The World Bank. (2018, May 25). Menstrual Hygiene Management Enables Women and Girls to Reach Their Full Potential. Retrieved from The World Bank: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/05/25/menstrual-hygiene-management
Ullah, I. (2017, May 24). ‘79% of Pakistani women don’t manage periods hygienically’. Retrieved from The Express Tribune: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1418055/79-pakistani-women-dont-manage-periods-hygienically