The health and well-being of women are important determinants as they have an irreversible impact on our society. Women’s health in India can be examined by multiple indicators, which vary according to geography, economic standing and culture. Health is an important factor that contributes to well-being and economic growth.
(As per a report by Unilever in 2013)
1. Giving girls privacy when they start menstruating
Access to safe and private toilets is the basic need of girls when they reach puberty. The biggest challenges are the availability of water, soap, and spaces for changing, washing and drying reusable materials and personal clothes, and the dignified and environmentally-safe disposal of used sanitary materials.
These facilities must be provided in homes and schools, colleges and workplaces. This is especially true for girls going to school, as providing such facilities generally has a positive impact on the girls and encourage them to attend school even during their monthly periods. After all, lower attendance levels can lead to increasingly poor performances from the girls, as they might drop out from the schools while pursuing their studies.
2. Keeping women safe from being attacked
When women do not have access to a toilet, they are forced to go outside due to which they might have to travel long distances – and often at night in order to maintain some privacy. This increases the risks of harassment, sexual violence and rape. Studies show that this is an issue of real concern which must be addressed.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is a large-scale, multi-round survey conducted in a representative sample of households across India. Only in seven of India’s states/union territories – Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, NCT Delhi, Kerala, Mizoram, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu – 92% of the female population, on an average, used hygienic methods of menstrual protection. Lakshadweep topped the list at 97.1%.
According to the same report on the Wire, “Bihar (55.6%), Dadra Nagar Haveli (66.4%), Madhya Pradesh (65.4%), Tripura (56.5%) and Uttar Pradesh (68.6%) are exceptions to the rule that more than 70% urban women in India maintain period hygiene.”
There is a need to improve the different aspects of sanitation in India. The lack of sanitation increases health and other risks among the women in the society. Also, women often remain shy about sharing their views on menstrual hygiene practices. Many women are also reluctant to follow certain hygienic practices.
There should be a drive to put forth a dedicated goal on sanitation that should set ambitious targets to ensure the following:
1. No one practises open defecation.
2. Provision of safe water, sanitation, hygiene and health facilities at home and school.
3. Water sanitation and hygiene are sustainable. Therefore, issues of inequality regarding access to such facilities should be progressively eliminated.
4. Promotion of hygiene should be featured as an important part of school curricula from the primary level onwards.
5. Creating awareness around menstrual hygiene management (MHM) within the society.
6. Helping girls and women overcome the stigma and shame associated with menstruation.
Sister Sudha, who was awarded the Padma Shree, has been working relentlessly for the past five decades for the upliftment of Dalit communities in Bihar. In 2013, Sister Sudha got in touch with Aakar, a Delhi-based NGO. They sent their people for approximately two weeks in Bihar and gave trained the women in making sanitary napkins. Sister Sudha bought the machines, the raw materials and trained the women. That’s how the production of Anandi pads began.
According to her, the sole reason for making Anandi pads is to make them accessible to rural women. Every month, her team distributes 250 pads for free among the girls in Danapur and Gaya. Otherwise, they are available for only ₹20.
Therefore, small steps can bring about a really big change in society.