In India, students face a great number of difficulties when it comes to sanitation and hygiene. In terms of access to and maintenance of basic standards of cleanliness, toilets in many Indian schools, colleges and universities fail to meet even the bare minimum. And in such a situation, if you’re menstruating, it’s twice as hard just to get through the day.
For one, the social stigma attached to menstruation already makes it difficult to talk about it. Moreover, schools and colleges are often ill-equipped to deal with the needs of menstruating students.
Namita Shah*, a second-year undergraduate student from Jadavpur University (JU), says, “There are the constant cramps, which are debilitating. Then there’s the unavailability of napkins inside the college campus. Even if there are vending machines, those stop working due to poor maintenance or give out low-quality napkins that are not really useful for heavy flow.”
Students like Namita often end up missing out on classes for extended periods as they find schools or colleges difficult to attend during such times.This not only affects their academic performance, but constant absenteeism also gives off a poor impression to teachers and professors, which is a major concern for some students.
And it’s not as if this is only a problem in far-flung, rural areas. The problem persists even in some of the foremost universities in the country. For instance, in Delhi University, toilets in many colleges lack sanitary napkin dispensers.
In fact, Jadavpur University set up a vending machine for sanitary napkins only a year ago, and not near the women’s toilet, but close to the xerox centre. Moreover, even the napkins from the vending machines are taxed, which is unfair because many students can’t afford it.
Priya Bhat*, another JU student, says, “It is worse when you’re living in a mess because you always have to keep stock. You can’t afford to run out of napkins in the middle of the night because the messes don’t have any vending machines. I already have to pay rent. Always keeping stock of good quality napkins is difficult on the pocket money I receive.”
According to a recent report by the UNESCO, over 20% of Indian girl students drop out of school upon reaching puberty, crippling their education. How is this still a reality in a country which sees the launch of initiatives such as the ‘Beti Padhao Beti Bachao’?
As far as schools, colleges and universities are concerned, more effort is required to make them accessible to the girl child. From proper counselling and guidance to vending machines, with good quality, affordable sanitary materials, there is much that needs to be done to make India’s public institutions women-friendly. And for all of this, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan needs to step up and act where required, to work towards educating the girl child. After all, clean India is impossible if we ignore women’s sanitation needs.
Public utilities like toilets and washrooms, especially within educational institutions, must be more hygienic, and sanitary pads should be made tax-free and affordable to every student. Only then can we make sure that one gender doesn’t unfairly fall behind another in terms of education and opportunity for growth in life.