Shame, taboo resulting in unhygienic menstrual practices across much of India

By Ojaswi Rao

Only in seven of India’s 36 states/union territories did 90 percent or more women in the 15-24 age group use hygienic protection during menstruation, according to the latest national health data.

Not even 50 percent women used clean methods of dealing with menstrual hygiene in eight states/union territories. The mean for these eight states was 43.5 percent, with Bihar the worst at 31 percent, according to the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS), released in 2015-16.

In seven states — Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, NCT Delhi, Kerala, Mizoram, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu — 92 percent of the female population, on average, used hygienic methods of menstrual protection. Lakshadweep topped the list at 97.1 percent.



Menstruation is still a taboo subject in India. Even now, women are considered “impure” during their period, subjected to social, religious and cultural restrictions, according to a study on menstrual health management. It was conducted by a collective of organisations dealing with water, sanitation and hygiene.

These practices have resulted in a culture of silence around the subject of period hygiene — 70 percent of Indian mothers consider menstruation “dirty”, as per the findings of the study.

 Shame, taboo resulting in unhygienic menstrual practices across much of India

Representational image. Reuters

This shame around menstruation also forces girls to opt out of school once they reach puberty, impeding the growth of female literacy in India. In rural India, 23 percent of girls have listed menstruation as the chief reason for dropping out of school, according to

As many as 28 percent of them said they do not go to school during their period because they lack clean and affordable protection, according to figures collated by Rutgers, an organisation for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Urban India fares better, rural Madhya Pradesh the worst

In the urban areas of 11 states or union territories, more than 90 percent of women used hygienic period protection, according to NFHS-4.

Bihar (55.6 percent), Dadra Nagar Haveli (66.4 percent), Madhya Pradesh (65.4 percent), Tripura (56.5 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (68.6 percent) are exceptions to the rule that more than 70 percent urban women in India maintain period hygiene.

The numbers are poor for villages, with ten states/union territories reporting an average of 39 percent. Madhya Pradesh fares the worst at 26.4 percent.

Only two union territories — Lakshadweep (98.4 percent) and Puducherry (97.8 percent) – showed a high number of rural women observing clean period protection.

Only 55 percent girls believe that periods are normal

There is very little awareness about the facts of menstruation among young girls in India. Only 55 percent of them consider it a natural and normal physical process, according to the study conducted jointly by Water Aid, PATH, Zariya, Development Solutions and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

Only 48 percent girls were aware of menstruation before they attained puberty, and no more than 23 percent knew that the uterus is the source of the bleeding, according to research conducted by the menstrual hygiene management study.

Teachers and health workers are not common sources of information for young girls on the subject of menstruation; mothers are, for 54 percent, according to the collective study.

Sanitary pads are too expensive, unavailable

The Rutgers study revealed that for the absorption of the menstrual blood, 89 percent women used cloth, two percent used cotton wool, seven percent sanitary pads and two percent ash. Among those who used cloth, 60% changed it only once a day. These practices could explain why 14 percent girls reported menstrual infections.

Sanitary pads are either too expensive or unavailable for women in many parts of India.

( is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit/ is fact-checking initiative, scrutinising for veracity and context statements made by individuals and organisations in public life)

Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.

Updated Date: Jun 20, 2017 16:09:37 IST