Important Questions About India’s Menstrual Crisis That Need To Be Answered Now

In India, menstruation is considered as ‘impure’ and a very ‘hush hush’ subject. Menstruating women are even made to pay extra for the fact that they menstruate. Yes, sanitary napkins are taxed in our country – up to 14% in certain states! As if menstruation is a choice!

And it’s costing us. Lack of menstrual hygiene facilities and awareness is leading to 23% girls dropping out of schools, particularly rural. This has also obviously contributed to the skewed sex ratio in India’s workplaces. And it’s shocking that this is the state of affairs in the country of ‘Beti Bachao’!

Leading up to World Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28), Youth Ki Awaaz took the discussion to Twitter and spoke to 5 experts to get their perspectives on this. Here’s what they (and the Twitter community at large) had to say:

1. MP Sushmita Dev: ‘Affordability Will Empower [Women] To Overcome Any Stigma’

Our first panellist was MP Sushmita Dev, whose recent petition, #TaxFreeWings, to remove the taxes on sanitary napkins received overwhelming support (3 lakh+ signatures!) and even reached Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Why did she take up this cause?

“Right to life for women depends on menstrual hygiene, and low tax means better quality of life. GST is an opportunity not to be missed. Equality is an empty word unless women have equal access to education and work. Affordability will empower them better to overcome any stigma.”

And her words ring true. After all, how can we have gender equality when women are being taxed for being born as women?

2. India: ‘Don’t Change The Channel If A Sanitary Napkin Advert Appears On TV’ India, the platform that helped drive the massive support for #TaxFreeWings was next on our panel, with amazing insights into what young people can do to abort the stigma around menstruation.

“There is a lot of stigma around menstruation, such petitions [like #TaxFreeWings] are important because they break those stereotypes. Young people should openly talk about menstrual health in schools and colleges. Don’t change the channel if a sanitary napkin advert appears on TV. Don’t let the chemist put the sanitary napkins in a black plastic bag or hide it in newspapers. Break the taboo. Have a conversation!”

3. MLA Renuka Bishnoi: Make Sanitary Napkins Tax-Free, Because They’re A Necessity, Not A Luxury

MLA Renuka Bishnoi, of Hansi constituency, also joined the chat, sharing her thoughts on why sanitary napkins need to be made tax-free, and immediately!

“I strongly advocate making sanitary napkins tax free, just like tax free condoms and contraceptives because sanitary napkins are not a luxury but a necessity. [We can improve menstrual hygiene by] conducting community dialogues involving both girls and boys,” she said.

4. WaterAid India: Swachh Bharat Needs To Care A Lot More About Menstrual Hygiene

WaterAid India, an organisation dedicated to improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene, gave a fresh turn to the conversation by questioning the actions of Swachh Bharat mission in improving menstrual hygiene, and the need to do better.

So, what role does Swachh Bharat need to play in all this? WaterAid India says, “Access to water, sanitation & hygiene affects menstrual hygiene management. Incinerator use must take account of product type, setting, efficient burning capacity and emission control measures. Safe disposal will be a problem as more females turn to pads with potential for 9000 tonnes of waste yearly.”

5. Khabar Lahariya: ‘Working Women Pay A Deep Psychological Price Because They Can’t Access Proper Menstrual Hygiene

Khabar Lahariya, a weekly, women-run newspaper in rural UP, shared insights as regarding the plight of young women in rural areas trying to access menstrual education. From stigma to lack of information, it’s an understatement to say that their situations are bad.

Said KL, “From lack of awareness to zero access to deeply ingrained taboos in a deeply patriarchal world, [accessing sanitary pads is tough for women in rural UP]. ‘This is not for you’ is the standard response to young girls trying to listen in to their mothers discuss their periods.

“Besides the dropout statistics, there’s a deep psychological price working women in rural UP pay [because they can’t access proper menstrual hygiene]. Their feelings of inferiority and weakness gets strengthened. And how!”

With such diverse perspectives coming through, the chat achieved a reach of over 12 million! It also drew inputs from popular Twitterati including Radhika Vaz, Pragya Vats, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and Sabika Abbas Naqvi, among many others. Mostly though, it opened up fresh perspectives to the discussion around menstrual health and hygiene in India!

Thousands of people have joined #IAmNotDown, Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign to smash the stigma around menstruation and demand affordable, tax-free sanitary napkins for every last woman. Join the campaign to be a part of the change by writing in and sharing your stories on social media!