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With Only 12% Women Having Access To Sanitary Pads, What Govt. And Society Can Do

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This story is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign #IAmNotDown to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene and start a conversation on how sanitary pads can be made more affordable. If you have an opinion on how we can improve access to menstrual hygiene products, write to us here.

Broaching the very subject may require precautions. A failure by the smallest degree may spark any number of catastrophes. Of course, we are talking about the not-so-unnatural, and the very-much-biological phenomenon – menstruation.

The hushed tone at the beginning is not for the educated and the liberated. On the other hand, it is a call to untie a large section of the Indian populace, especially the females, from their skewed perceptions of monthly bleeding.

The scientific explanation behind menses has not seen the light of day in many parts of the country. And how can they see the light, if more time and efforts are dedicated to burying this topic, instead of talking about it?

For the less privileged, periods are the few ‘cursed’ days of the month. You cannot enter the temple, kitchen or take part in any auspicious occasion – because you are ‘impure’. It does not end here. Talking about menstruation, that too in public, is a sin which cannot be atoned for. Even washing the ‘impure’ clothes should be done as covertly as possible. Any violation of these norms – and society disowns you!

Without deviating much, let’s face it – do we see why cases of reproductive tract infection (RTI) are on a steady rise? To begin with, it is vital to know that only 12% of Indian women have access to sanitary napkins – the remaining 88% having no access whatever – according to the results of the study, “Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right”, undertaken by AC Nielsen.

So, what alternatives do the remaining 88% women resort to? Would you believe if these alternatives happen to be unsanitised cloth, husk sand, tree leaves and even ashes! It was hard for me to stomach! But alas, statistics and evidences do not lie.

Statistics obtained by the study show that cases of acute RTI are 70% more common in these women. The starker fact is that they cannot afford ‘luxuries’ such as sanitary pads.

This clearly answers why 30% of the girls in north India (who were interviewed for the survey) said that they dropped out from schools once they started menstruating. In the survey, nearly 97% of the gynaecologists stated that using sanitary napkins considerably reduce the chances of contracting RTI and cervical cancer, as well.

So, what is the one major concern? Knowledge or cost? Actually, it is both. However, a greater number of women seem hard-pressed due to the financial burden. Even if the taxes levied on sanitary napkins (SN) and sanitary towels (ST) are lifted, things aren’t likely to change much.

In June 2010, the union health ministry announced a scheme of ₹150 crore to increase access to sanitary napkins. It promised to supply a pack of six SNs to the girls below poverty line at a minimum cost (₹1 per pack), and ₹5 per pack to the ones above poverty line. Regardless of whether the funds have been suitably channelised or not, the dire state of menstrual hygiene in India has shown no signs of improvement.

The villages in the remote parts of the country have medicine shops and hospitals that often do not sell essentials – sanitary napkins being one of them. On being questioned, the shopkeepers blatantly say that they are not in demand in the localities – and rightly so, because breaking age-old practices will take a few more ages!

Breaking menstrual taboos and addressing menstrual issues the correct way!

A strategic approach to alter the regressive mindset of the multitude is imperative at the moment. Different health organisations can arrange campaigns in educational institutions. Their main objective should be to detach the people from the stigmas that bind them. These women should know what exactly is causing all the suffering. Moreover, the consequences of poor hygiene should be deeply imprinted into their minds, even if it costs days and weeks of struggle.

The best approach would be to categorise women into different age groups and educate them on the dos and don’ts of menstrual issues. Convincing them about facts like ‘period clothes’ should be dried in bright sunlight, proper bathing is necessary during that time (and a lot more) may seem herculean, at the beginning. But once the young women learn that they need to open up about menstruation, half the effort will already have been successful.

In a country where women themselves speak of menstruation as ‘the monthly problem’ or ‘the monthly illness’, propagating the various aspects of periods (especially the health-related ones) is not a one-man-task. It will take more than mere lip-service to eradicate the taboos. The day these women will embrace the ‘menstruation talk’, without cringing, will be the day we celebrate liberation!


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  1. Subharthi Sen

    Well written. It’s a shame that we live in a country where sanskar counts for more than a human life.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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