Uma Prue Marma is from Kuhalang Union in Bandarban Sadar Upazila. Age: 14. She didn’t know much about menstruation when she was in class six. At first, she thought the word menstruation denoted the school’s monthly fees card or something like that! When her friend was menstruating for the first time, she saw blood stains on her friend’s clothes and thought that blood had come out of a cut or injury. Later, when she came to know about menstruation, she became more scared. Later still, she was afraid to sit in class with her friend, because at that time she considered it to be an infectious disease.

Moumita Tanchangya is from Alekkhyang Union of Rowangchhari Upazila. Age: 19. When she had abdominal pain during her period, she was no longer able to attend classes in peace. Her body and mind seemed to be in constant discomfort. In many cases, sometimes it happened that the school teacher had already asked her to attend a certain important class; besides, Moumita herself wants to attend the class. Unfortunately, menstruation starts on the same day. Even though she was present in the class to comply with her own interest and the teacher’s instructions, her mind still wants to go to bed. While she is experiencing abdominal pain in class, she thinks that if someone puts a chunk of stone around her waist, she will feel better.

In this way, two adolescent girls have shared their life experiences about menstruation, but we know that menstruation is a quite natural and normal biological process in a woman’s life. If we scrutinize the incident, it is found that Uma Prue being a girl did not know that she would have to face such an incident in her life as well. Moumita’s case shows that she could not concentrate in class during menstruation due to health complications; her studies too were severely disrupted in those days due to abdominal pain. This is about two girls from two Upazilas of Bandarban Hill District in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Whether it’s hill tracts or plain areas, the context and experiences of menstrual practice in a woman’s life are almost the same. However, due to the unfavorable environment and inaccessibility to menstrual products in these areas, the scenarios becomes more miserable and carries with them the identity of ignorance in the use of materials and in safe menstrual practice.

According to UNICEF, around 800 million girls and women worldwide menstruate every day. The average age at which a girl starts and terminates menstruating is at 12 years and 51 years, respectively. The length of menstruation is about 2-7 days per month. During these days, females have to go through different kinds of experiences. Assuming that a woman goes through this normal and regular menstrual process for about 39 years in ‘normal situations,’ she has to experience menstruation about 468 times in her entire life. In other words, it can be said that a woman spends about 3000 days in her whole life going through the menstrual process which is calculated to be approximately 8 years. This calculation is essentially an average figure. The difference in this number largely depends on the woman’s own lifestyle, surrounding environment, body stature, eating habits, and hormonal effects. Altogether, we have seen from this review that menstruation has been closely associated with a woman’s entire life for a long time.

Unhealthy menstrual health care, unavailability of materials required for health management, and poor sanitation infrastructure are hampering educational opportunities, health, and the social status of women and girls around the world. As a result, millions of women and girls are unable to reach their full potential. It is a matter of concern that there are still many superstitions and deep-rooted misconceptions about menstruation. The pandemic situation has made this process even more upsetting because periods do not stop during this time. This is a big issue, especially for girls and women in remote areas like in the hill tracts of Bangladesh. Despite considerable development, there is inaccessibility of information and the awareness of menstrual health of women in hilly areas is still in a fragile condition. Inadequate access to clean water and hygienic sanitary materials are highly associated with menstrual health, but my practical professional experience has shown that those who have moved to the urban areas for the purpose of education and livelihood, are aware to a certain extent regarding hygiene and of sound health-positive practice.

A small initiative cannot change the whole scenario, but it is easier to identify the problem and explore ways to overcome it. It also signifies a positive path to change. Moreover, as a result of the implementation of various government and NGO initiatives, adolescent girls and women are able to think of changing their context. They are getting a chance to realize the backwardness themselves. They realize that the current practice of menstrual health is harmful or healthy for one’s wellbeing. Furthermore, they feel that they need to be more aware of what they need to do, and know that they need further knowledge of their own reproductive rights and menstrual health. Hopefully, in order to take this work forward, a development project titled ‘Our Lives, Our Health, Our Futures’ is being implemented in 3 Hill Districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh with the financial support of the EU by involving about 12,000 marginalized adolescent girls and young women.

We hope that the life of girls and women will not be endangered due to the mismanagement of menstrual health. We also hope as well as that a woman will be able to complete this emergency task of her life in a proper and dignified manner. In this way, existing social prejudices and social norms will be changed and women’s health will be better. Therefore, there is no other alternative but for the comprehensive efforts of all stakeholders’ that is the government, private bodies, mass media, and the of the people of our society to come together with a positive attitude.

Author: Sumit Banik

Sumit Banik is a public health activist and trainer. He has a passion for development journalism and creative writing. He has written more than 50 articles on public health issues in reputed online media platforms. Currently, he is working on a capacity-building areas for girls’ and women’s empowerment in the Bandarban hill district of Bangladesh. Here is the link to his Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sumit.banik3

Edited by: Divya Rosaline