Meenakashi Kumari still remembers a time when her friends would take a half-day or a chutti (leave) from school, just because they got their period. All that changed six months ago with a simple intervention—a sanitary pad vending machine installed inside the school premises, with pads made available to students for as less as ₹ 2.
She is the school’s head girl and the in-charge of the ‘Pink Room’, the menstrual hygiene project of Bhai Kahan Singh Girls School, Nabha. The intervention, that has so far happened in 50 government schools in eight districts of Punjab, has transformed the lives of 8,000 girls and has been running as a part of a project run by the Khwahish Seva Society, a local NGO.
“Now, thanks to the vending machine, we don’t fear anything. Also, they knew nothing about pads. They would use cloth, which their mothers would advise, which was unhygienic. All that has changed since the installation of the vending machine in our school,” Kumari said.
The affordability of the pads has been a real game-changer, the students say. “The market price of pads is ₹30 to ₹35, but in school, the same pad is available for two rupees,” noted Meenakshi. For someone like Meenakshi, whose father is a labourer, this has made all the difference. A similar sentiment has been echoed by other students at the school with similar financial backgrounds.
“Ours is a government school, so most students belong to low-income families and can’t afford sanitary pads at market prices. And, their parents thought sanitary pads were a waste of money. But, the vending machine has spread awareness among students, and girls now know that using pads is hygienic,” said Ramandeep Kaur, a teacher at the school.
With the installation of an incinerator, students are also learning how to dispose menstrual waste responsibly. The impact of the intervention has been telling.
Enrolment and attendance at the school have soared. “Before the machine’s installation, the school had approximately 1,400 students,” said Sukhjeet Kaur, a teacher at the school, adding that “Today, this school is the largest in Patiala district with over 1,600 girl students.”
At the Garlon Bet government school in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district, the school decided to take the conversation to their male students too, who visit neighbouring villages to spread awareness on the issue.
“We didn’t know about menstruation until our teacher told us about the topic,” said Raju, a student at the school. “I openly talk about periods at my home and here in school with girls too. On May 28, on Menstrual Hygiene Day, we took out a rally to make people aware of this topic. Ma’am had given us pads, which we gifted to our sisters at home.”
“We started this menstrual hygiene project in 2015,” said Pardeep Kaur, a teacher. “Due to Bet area’s backwardness, we focused not only on school girls but on our whole area. We take out rallies in different villages. We held a poster-making competition in which even boys participated. Apart from this, once in a month, the school organises menstrual hygiene lectures for girls. When we started the project, girls were too shy to even say ‘pad’. They used the word ‘toffee’ instead. Now, they come and ask for pads,” Kaur said.
About the author: Sandeep Singh is a Machhiwara-based freelance writer, and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.