The Honourable Minister
ST Welfare, Women and Child Welfare
Government of Telangana
This is to bring to your notice, the lack of access to menstrual hygiene and the social taboos surrounding menstruation, which hinder the growth of young girls across the state. Living in Hyderabad, which is the capital of the state, I have personally experienced numerous instances of ignorance and ostracism. Many places fail to provide the required menstrual hygiene products.
For years, the Indian society has been denying women their basic biological right to menstruate freely. Menstruation is considered to be a scandalous concept and the right to talk about it has been curbed at every institutional level. However, it is high time that we stopped this practice and started talking about menstruation, thereby spreading awareness and sharing vital knowledge. According to the United Nations, India is among the top countries in which there is a sheer lack of menstrual hygiene, health resources, and awareness.
Logical steps must be taken to tackle the situation and mend the society that is riddled with taboos and age-old beliefs. Most of the school-going girls are not aware about the process of menstruation and do not know whom to confide in, during situations of discomfort and fear. This results in many girls dropping out of schools, falling sick, and suffering for prolonged periods of time.
Some of the immediate steps to be taken, in terms of access to menstrual hygiene products, are:
- Cleaner public toilets: Unhygienic public toilets are the topmost reason why women cannot leave their homes for long hours, during their periods. This negatively affects their professional and social lives to a large extent. Public toilets must be regularly cleaned and set up with facilities like changing rooms. Moreover, there is a lack of women’s washrooms in public spaces, which must also be looked into immediately.
- Clean and safe disposal bins: Menstrual waste in India is among the highest in the world. Every year, nearly 9,000 tonnes of sanitary waste is produced across the country. About 45% of the sanitary waste is dumped along with regular waste. The big cities are the largest contributors to this situation. To tackle this problem, there must be an organised waste disposal system in public toilets, with different bins for different types of waste products.
- Sanitary pad and tampon vending machines: To ensure women’s smooth access to public spaces, there must be sanitary pad/tampon vending machines in every public toilet, office area, railway station, airport, mall, and park.
- Tax-free menstrual hygiene products: One of the major reasons due to which many young girls and women do not use hygienic products is that they are highly priced. The government must scrap off the taxes levied on such products, as they act as an infringement upon the basic biological rights of women.
- Free medically-prescribed painkillers: Menstruation comes with painful cramps and prolonged periods of uneasiness. To help menstruating women have a pain-free cycle, the local bodies must issue free painkillers and other related medical products.
Apart from the aforementioned points, there are some other measures that must be taken to change the ways in which people view menstruation. The civic bodies must further engage with the locals, to help them understand the situation better.
- Introduce menstrual health as a part of the school curriculum: Almost all the schools in the cities as well as the villages avoid teaching the children about reproductive health, as it is considered to be a taboo. There must be regular informative sessions held on this topic, so that children and adolescents can be better prepared and can switch to hygienic practices.
- Conduct open demonstrations and campaigns in every locality: Every locality must be empowered with knowledge and information. The civic bodies must conduct campaigns and open demonstrations on why discussions on menstruation should not be treated as a taboo and why people must talk about it to help the women in their families cope with regular life, while menstruating. It is also high time to take stern action against those who ostracise menstruating women, by implementing fines and other mild forms of punishment.
- Train the waste-management personnel to safely dispose of menstrual waste: Since waste management is a major issue in the country, every local waste disposal personnel must be trained to dispose of waste in an orderly manner. All the cleaners and waste disposal staff must be rigorously and regularly trained, and they must take quarterly examinations to assess their progression. This might help in reducing the health hazards that result from callous disposal of menstrual waste.
- Distribute pamphlets and free samples of menstrual hygiene products across households: The state government must appoint professional demonstrators and volunteers to knock on every door and distribute informative pamphlets and samples of pads/tampons and pills. This will help people gain further awareness about these and women will be given the opportunity to choose from a range of products.
- Conduct seminars in schools and colleges: Educational institutions are the best places to conduct conferences and seminars, as they are filled with young learners. The ministry of education, in collaboration with the ministry of women and child welfare, must engage with the youth and spread awareness about reproductive and menstrual health. People of all sexes must be made aware about menstruation and this topic must be normalised across the institutions, so that the youth can lead the way forward and bring about a change in people’s perceptions. Moreover, this engagement will help the local bodies identify the problem areas and understand how young people from varied social backgrounds view menstrual health and hygiene.
It must be made clear that menstruation is not simply a women-oriented issue. It is a social issue and it must be understood from the perspective of basic human rights. It is the right of every woman to have proper access to healthy menstrual products. A healthy period is dependent on several social factors, like awareness, reasonable thinking, positive discussion, openness to learning, elimination of dogmas, and access to clean water and sanitary products. I urge you to kindly set up a committee that will look into this issue and help young girls and women live with dignity, without being ostracised from the society. The government must take the first step forward; only then will the rest follow.
I look forward to a positive development over the next few years.
Content Editor and Blogger