This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Prachi. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

It Will Take More Than Distributing Pads To End Period Poverty

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

When G Talukdar came back from school in February one day, the 18-year old from Silcoorie village of Assam felt her stomach abnormally swollen. She had no idea that a parasite had been damaging her intestine. In April 2017, Talukdar died because of an unclean cloth she had used as a replacement for a sanitary napkin, a common practice across the country,” read a report by Down To Earth.

This could have been a preventable incident if only we could have been able to provide her with access to chemical-free sanitary napkins, a menstrual cup, or tampons. She had made the mistake of using an unclean cloth, a mistake that cost her her life. This is one example amongst thousands of how people suffer due to the effects of ‘period poverty.’

What Is Period Poverty?

Period poverty’ implies a state of paucity or unavailability of sanitary products and other hygiene-related essentials, like clean toilets and water, often due to monetary constraints. In India, I feel that the entire population that menstruates falls victim to it. Yes, some have to face harsher circumstances compared to others, but all of us have battles to fight in our own right.

How Taboos Work

Despite being part of the basic grind for women, menstruation is still pronounced as being a ‘burden’. Ignorance, particularly, in the case of periods can be fatal, owing to the secrecy and stigma around periods. By virtue of it being a ‘taboo’, it ends up reinforcing patriarchy in society.

Sexual and reproductive health are matters that are often kept away from the public discourse. It is said that about 71% of girls in India are unaware of menstruation before they get their first period. ‘Shame’ was probably one of the many intertwining causes that led Talukdar to seek materials that were detrimental to her health.

Lack Of Facilities

Toilets India
For representation only.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NHFS, 2015-16), 42% of Indian women lack access to hygienic means so as to manage their menstrual cycles. One important factor is the lack of easy access to toilets, and the second is related to access to menstrual hygiene-related products.

Regarding the latter, many people, as a result of economic distress and unavailability of appropriate absorbents, are compelled to use unorthodox and dangerous materials like ash, newspapers, rags, dried leaves and husk sand, grass, and more. Even with access to toilets under the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ questions arise over cleanliness, access to water, and proper sewage connection.

If we carefully examine the Solid Waste Management 2016 rules, we shouldn’t even be disposing of sanitary waste as we currently do. Disposal of menstrual waste is as difficult as procuring menstrual products.

What About The Environmental Cost?

An individual who has to deal with periods ends up leaving a huge carbon footprint. The dialogue on disposal of sanitary waste is equally important as the access to sanitary napkins. Commercially-marketed sanitary napkins and tampons are a health hazard in the making.

These intimate hygiene products are made using plastic and other chemicals. For example, the market giants wish to substitute the natural odour of the vagina with scents of flowers and mountains, which is done through chemicals.

There is a gel used in pads, that supposedly locks the ‘unnatural’ and ‘appalling’ natural odours using synthetic fragrances as well as chemicals including dioxins, herbicides, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

Apart from the inability of pads to decompose for hundreds of years, there is an indirect environmental concern as well. Stagnant menstrual blood can accumulate bacteria such as Escherichia Coli which can reach groundwater deposits and seeps into the soil. Therefore, alternatives to the current pads and tampons are crucial.

Water-less Hygiene?

In the ‘menstruation discourse’, we tend to forget one important factor—water. The International Bill of Human Rights does not recognise water as a human right, although much later it was debated on the global forum. In the context of India, the right to water is indirectly protected by the Constitution under the ‘Right to Life, Basic Necessities’ and the ‘Right to Health’.

Water isn’t only necessary for the economy, but also the survival of humans, especially women. WaterAid published a report that noted that annually, illnesses related to lack of water, basic sanitation, and hygiene were responsible for the deaths of almost 8,00,000 women around the world.

As ‘day zero’ is fast approaching, water-rationing will not be a far-fetched reality. When there is a scarcity of toilets clubbed with a decreasing supply of water for washing oneself, and with cloth pads being used by menstruating people, there is a significant chance of catching an infection.

The most common diseases that occur due to an absence of menstruation management can range from dermatitis, bacterial vaginosis (BV), urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can be fatal for our organ’s daily functioning. Many infections can make one more susceptible to cervical cancer.

What Can Be The Way Forward?

The theme for this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day was ‘It’s Time For Action’, to stress the importance of good menstrual hygiene management. However, I see no will amongst the people to take action on this pressing matter, which needs to be addressed and fast.

Yes, in today’s time we have many choices, but are they the best? Are they the most inclusive? Can cloth products be the answer to our problems? Many claim menstrual cups to be one of the more cost-efficient options, which may cost you anywhere around ₹300 to ₹1,500. These cups are reusable, eco-friendly. But how many people can really afford to invest in this? We need to keep in mind that India’s significant percentage of the population struggles to make ends meet.

Despite menstruation and menstrual products being a necessity to invest in, this cup will be perceived as an ‘indulgent’ financial burden. Many are forced to buy the cheapest available option. Aren’t we too elitist to claim menstrual cups are the best way forward?

The organic and biodegradable menstrual hygiene products that are in the market are also way more expensive. Another option is that of using cloth pads, but many worry about the hygiene aspect of it. When it comes to affordability, disposable pads tend to cost way less than the cloth pads or other ‘eco-friendly’ products.

Keeping this all in mind, we need to innovate and come up with smart and safe products for the masses. Realistically, disposable sanitary pads are here to stay until we find another option, which is why we should make sure manufacturers take responsibility for its disposal-extended producer responsibility.

Another aspect we must look at is privatisation, commercialisation, and commodification of the water sector, which is a threat to human rights. Lastly, an attitudinal and behavioural shift in menstrual discourse by the masses is required so that we can ‘normalise’ and talk about reproductive and sexual health and hygiene.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured image for representation only.
You must be to comment.

More from Prachi

Similar Posts

By Charkha features

By Swami Shankar

By Sharique Ahmed Khan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below