The lack of menstrual health (MH) hygiene is deep-rooted in gender inequality issues in India. Historically, it has been seen that menstrual health needs and women hygiene concerns are often overlooked, owing to crippling cultural taboos, discriminatory social norms, widespread poverty, and a lack of basic amenities such as toilets and sanitary products on the ground level.

That said, according to research, slowly-yet-steadily, men are becoming advocates in advancing the cause MHM agenda due to two main reasons:

  • Active interest: One, boys are keen to gain knowledge about menstruation and searching information out despite societal norms encouraging them to remain ignorant.
  • Demonstrating sympathy: Boys are also largely sympathetic to their menstruating sisters and fellow classmates and demonstrate greater sensitisation in understanding the issues surrounding the need for good MHM.

Clearly, there is a positive change in the mindset and attitude of men towards menstruation, albeit on a smaller scale.

In this research article, we will deep-dive to understand the essential and effective role men can play in driving menstruation management and identify the ever-widening gaps that are preventing women from having their practical and strategic menstrual needs fulfilled.

Key Research Learnings and Insights

In this section, we will summarise the key findings of the report and highlight the gaps that are preventing women and girls from leading healthy and normal lives when it comes to menstruation.

  1. Men are integral for driving an MHM-friendly environment: Contrary to popular opinion, father, son, brothers, and male friends do play an important role in providing basic amenities and building a strengthened environment for females.
    The learning: Men’s attitudes are particularly important factors to consider in relation to the perpetuation and dissemination of stereotypes about menstruation.
  2. The need of the hour is to educate and create awareness among boys and girls: Around 62% of males interviewed claim that it is not critical to purchase sanitary pads without being noticed. However, of 38% of men believe in hiding the sanitary pad while purchasing it. Additionally, a fraction feels that menstruation should only be taught to girls and the rest feel that the topic does not demand any attention at all.
    To change this restrictive mindset, there needs to be more open dialogue centred around fulfilling the unmet demands for menstrual hygiene products for women–without adding the tag of shame or unpleasantness to it.
    For instance, media and entertainment can play an active role in creating awareness about MH. Commercially successful Bollywood movies like ‘Padman’–based on India’s “menstrual man” Arunachalam Muruganantham are questioning the stigma around menstruation and making menstruation a central theme of mainstream conversations among both men and women.
    Furthermore, popular actor, RJ Joseph recently spearheaded a campaign called “Stain the Stigma” to encourage healthy conversations on menstruation and get rid of the wrong perceptions and lack of sensitivity that revolves around menstruation. The end goal has been to counter myths and taboos around menstruation and drive open dialogue (successfully so).
    The learning: While creating awareness through mass media platforms and celebrity endorsement is a step in the right direction, the learning and education for the menstrual period should start in the early stages of adolescence, at the school level according to 68% of the respondents. This can help the boys protect the dignity of their female family members, build confidence, and strengthen sexual and reproductive health as time progresses as they enter adulthood.
  3. Men are lending a helping hand to females during the menstrual period: In a refreshing change, the survey found that most men believe that they can help or assist females at home during menstruation by:
    • Doing the heavy-lifting and carrying out household chores
    • Offering women physical comfort
    • Bringing her sanitary pads

    According to the survey, 68% of married males have purchased sanitary pads for their wives and moms as compared to their unmarried male counterparts (32%). However, they experience a myriad of feelings while they purchase the sanitary pad. Here’s a visual representation of the same:
    The learning: While men are increasingly becoming more considerate towards their wives, mothers, and daughters during the course of the menstrual period, the negative feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear, etc. while buying a sanitary pad need to be addressed–and eliminated–through increased sensitisation and normalisation of the topic.

  4. Mothers are playing a central role in information dissemination: Mothers are increasingly playing a significant role in informing males between the ages of 18 and 25 years about menstruation. That said, most males cited informal communication among friends (57%) and social media (41%) as their primary sources of menstrual health information.
    The learning: The silver lining is that 75% of men are aware of menstruation, albeit in relatively informal ways. Clearly, there needs to be a structured framework for driving formal education on the topic.
  5. Lack of effective communication: Over 50% of the respondents were comfortable discussing the MH topic during the survey, with 52% of them having reported driving formal discussions on this topic in the past. The rest 48% confessed to have never had any formal discussion on the menstruation topic prior to the survey.
    The learning: Effective communication and mass media can uproot the taboo associated with MH, play an active role in adding to the men’s comfort levels around this topic, and normalise the topic at large.
  6. Negative associations with menstruation: Menstruation is associated with pain, mess, blood, gore, and impurity–a primary factor due to which even women feel uncomfortable talking about their periods. Along the same vein, here’s a visual representation of the underlying feelings and thoughts that men associate with periods:
    The learning: An ambivalent cultural context is a backdrop in which girls and boys learn about menstruation, and it continues to influence the beliefs and attitudes of women and men throughout their lives–a change in mindset and approach is the hopeful way forward.

Research Methodology

The research was conducted Online with men from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai & Kolkata. A sample size of 432 men belonging to different age groups (18 to 40 years) and having varied marital status (married, unmarried, and divorced/separated) were interviewed.

The objective is to throw light on the:

  • Awareness, perception, attitude, and role of men towards menstruation
  • Whether (or not) there is a change in the perception and attitude among males of a metro city towards menstrual health needs of women

Author: Ashwani Arora – Sr. VP Research, Market Xcel