As per the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 (NFHS-4) only 57.6% of women in India use sanitary napkins. 48.5% of women in rural India use sanitary napkins while 77.5% of women in urban India use sanitary napkins.
The reason why women in rural India don’t use sanitary pads is because they cost more, they aren’t available easily, they are ashamed to buy them from the shopkeeper (generally a male), they are ignorant (in the sense, if rag, ashes and cloth are doing well then why buy a sanitary napkin?).
The statistics for rural India are a matter of concern. This is the reason behind the efforts of NGOs to distribute sanitary napkins for free or at low costs. Does that end the problem?
The statistics with regard to the use of sanitary pads by females in urban India shall worry us equally. Most of the women in urban India use commercial sanitary napkins and tampons which are nothing but an amalgam of plastic and chemicals.
The problem with women in urban India and rural India is not very distinct. I believe that both sets of females are unaware and ignorant towards the fact that the materials used by them during their menstruation are detrimental for their health.
Using a rag, ashes and cloth are unhygienic and they have a detrimental effect on the health of the women. Even after washing the cloth, bad bacteria don’t leave it. This can cause allergy, irritation, cervical cancer and even death. The average sanitary pad is made from 90 percent plastic, that’s equivalent to four single-use carrier bags. Tampons are just as bad as their applicators are commonly coated in plastic, they’re non-recyclable. So, if you’re taking your 16-pack of pads home in a reusable bag, you’ll actually be purchasing 64 single-use bags.
Sanitary napkins, unlike shown in the advertisements, have to be changed every 1-2 hours for vaginal health. It doesn’t allow air to pass. The highly-publicised ‘odour lock’ technology leaves female health in jeopardy. The gel that locks odour is nothing but a synthetic fragrance and consists of many more chemicals, such as pesticides, rayon, herbicides, dioxin, deodorant and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
These may not only cause allergies, itchiness, rashes but also cancer, infertility, pelvic inflammation, toxic shock syndrome, impaired thyroidal function, endometriosis and many other reproductive diseases and disorders.
Using sanitary napkins may or may not help us curb the health problems faced by females in lieu of using other unhygienic and harmful objects/substances but this surely marks the beginning of another problem – environmental issues, an element of climate change.
These commercial pads and tampons are non-biodegradable. The way they have been dumped adds to the harm they do to the environment. Some ladies flush them down the toilet which chokes the sewer. The sanitary napkins that have gel get stuck and don’t get cleared using machines. It has to be a human who goes inside the sewer and removes it with his/her hands.
Some women throw the sanitary napkins without wrapping them in newspapers. This causes the bacteria to multiply causing an adverse effect on the person clearing the dustbin or the one segregating waste. Some women put it in a plastic bag. This makes plus 1 to the four plastic bags. Some women are so ashamed that they don’t even dump the pad in the dustbin but just throw it out their windows letting it settle on the roads or parks. It takes a sanitary pad 500-800 years to decompose completely. It stays in the landfills causing pollution, causing climate change. Killing us indirectly.
The solution can be to use biodegradable menstrual hygiene products such as eco-friendly sanitary pads. However, the problem attached to these products is that they aren’t very readily available in the market. Even if one finds them online, they are expensive as compared to the commercial pads and tampons. One can switch to cloth pads, menstrual panties and menstrual cups. These are much more cost-efficient.
A menstrual cup may cost you around 800 to 1000 rupees yet it can be used for nearly a decade. It is made of silicon hence isn’t detrimental for the environment. Cloth pads and menstrual panties are not the same as using a dirty cloth. It is a better and advanced version of cloth. It can be washed and reused.
The eco-friendly and biodegradable menstrual hygiene products are comparatively more expensive, but the commercial pads which are not as costly, are also not reaching all women of our country. That is the battle we have to fight. On one hand, the poor level of menstrual sanitation, on the other, the detrimental effects of improved menstrual sanitation and its adverse effects of women and the environment.
To all those who are reading this, if you are a female then please make a switch to something that is good for the environment. If you are a male then please spread the word. Help your mother, sister, friends, wife and others to make a switch. Raise your voice towards effective waste management of menstrual products.
Lets us raise our voices and take action towards better menstrual hygiene and towards a better environment.