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Dhaka Tribune

Menstruation: An overlooked challenge for underprivileged girls

42% of women in the country have an iron deficiency, a symptom of anaemia

Update : 18 May 2023, 11:56 PM

Adolescence, a time of significant physical changes, poses unique challenges for girls, notably the onset of menstruation. While preparing a woman for motherhood, this natural process brings with it a host of physical discomforts such as fatigue, abdominal pain, and nausea. While it is a challenge all girls must face, the situation is particularly daunting for the underprivileged in societies in Bangladesh, experts say.

For instance, take Surma, a 13-year-old flower vendor at Dhaka University. She and her mother live on the streets since her father died. Her monthly cycle causes significant bleeding and weakness, making work difficult. Consequently, there is a loss of income, leading to malnutrition these days.

Surma's plight is not an isolated case. The Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey Report states that about 42% of women in the country have an iron deficiency, a symptom of anaemia, a condition that can worsen with heavy menstrual bleeding.

According to Gynecologist Dr Shamma A Jahan, anaemia can occur due to bleeding during menstruation. Anaemia requires eating more iron-rich foods. Eating red fruits such as pomegranate can also cure anaemia.

However, nutritious food is a luxury that girls like Surma cannot afford.

Another critical issue is the lack of sanitary pads, leading to the use of rags or unclean clothes, which can result in various infectious diseases. 

"How do I buy pads when I don't even have money to buy food?" questions 15-year-old Amena at a slum in Hazaribagh.

A survey conducted in the slums of Dhaka revealed alarming statistics: 95% of adult women and 90% of teenage girls use unclean clothes during menstruation, leading to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and pregnancy complications.

Dr Shamma warns that improper cleaning of these makeshift pads increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, cervicitis, and leucorrhoea. Girls living on the streets or in open spaces may also develop local infections and kidney problems due to UTIs.

Addressing this issue, Zahid Amin, a program development specialist at Uttaran -- a social development organization, emphasizes the urgency of making sanitary pads more accessible. "Sanitary pads should be spread from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, area to area so that women of all walks of life can get it," he asserts.

Amin also commends the government's initiative of providing free sanitary pads and urges a further increase in their distribution. 

"Various NGOs make sanitary pads for village women. Everyone should try to improve this technology to improve women's reproductive health," he added.

The menstruation challenges underprivileged girls face underscore a broader health inequality issue. This situation calls for concerted efforts from governments, NGOs, and societies to ensure no girl compromises her health because of poverty.

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