Disability and the barriers to feminine hygiene
India has made significant progress with regard to menstrual health and hygiene management (MHHM) over the past decades. However, certain groups have been overlooked, including girls and women with disabilities, who face an exceptional burden on account of the intersections between gender and disability.
What is the extent of the problem?
- Neglected minority: According to Census 2011, nearly 27 million persons (or 2.2% of the Indian population) are disabled. A person with disabilities (PwDs) has limited mobility and cognitive capacities which hinders her/his full and effective participation in society equally with others.
- High vulnerabilities: The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act recognised that women and children are particularly vulnerable, and that certain rights, such as reproductive rights, may be even more neglected or disregarded as compared to others.
- Sociocultural attitudes: PwD may be excluded from fully participate in many areas of daily life as a consequence of impairments/societal barriers or sociocultural attitudes. Every menstruating person has the right to menstrual health, irrespective of their gender identity, ability, or socioeconomic status.
What are the challenges faced by PwD?
- Stigma around mensuration: For a vast majority of women and girls and persons with gender diverse identities, menstruation is more than a mere physiological process due to preconceived notions about menstrual blood being impure or dirty. It creates additional hurdles to hygiene management.
- Triple burden: The realisation of rights and entitlements of PwD is poor, especially for those from socially and economically vulnerable groups. In India, girls and women with disabilities from poor households and marginalised communities, bear a triple burden.
- Prejudices and misconceptions: Deeply embedded prejudices about the reproductive anatomy and abilities of PwD result in their being considered asexual, unsuitable for marriage, and incapable of having and raising children. Access to sexual and reproductive health information and services are in turn compromised.