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Do Only 12% Of Menstruators In India Use Hygienic Sanitary Products?

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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.

In the late months of the year 2010, Nielsen AC holdings, along with the endorsement of Plan India, conducted a survey. It famously declared that only 12% of the menstruating population of India uses sanitary napkins while the other 88% uses old fabric bags, old newspapers, fly ash or even sawdust which lead to a range of reproductive tract infections.

This number played a considerable role in raising awareness about the lack of awareness surrounding menstrual products. Even ten years later and with new data present, this percentage is thrown around to generate shock value by picking the lowest number possible amongst other similar existing surveys.

period awareness

The relatively newer and larger-scale study conducted from 2015 to 2016 by the National Family Health Survey concluded that about 58% of women use some form of sanitary napkins. Do they see the difference? A far more extensive study came to a number almost quintuple that of the initial.

A poorly conducted research or a survey with an undiversified pool can lead to a highly inaccurate outcome. Exposure to an erroneous survey might cause a state of confusion and poor decision making along with underestimating the extent of knowledge possessed by the communities in question.

Debunking The Myth

How did the initial survey result in such a low and now proven inaccurate number? The answer lies in the maths. Don’t worry; it’s not going to be boring. Data on SurveyMonkey states that to have a reasonably successful survey, which will help us understand our population better, we would need 97 people per million people, which is with a 10% margin of error.

In India, we have a menstruating population of about 336 million. By this calculation, we would need about 32,000 candidates to conduct a reasonably accurate survey (with a 10% margin of error, and around 3 million women if we need a 1% margin of error).

But, the “12%” survey involved only 1033 women in the menstruating age. Therefore the survey consulted every 1 in 325,266 women, and naturally, this provided us with a giant error. After all, studies depend on the region, age, education level, family environment, etc. So how can an analysis be accurate when the participant pool itself is biased?

To understand a problem is to learn how many people are being affected by the said problem and allocate sufficient resources accordingly. Education and provision go hand in hand. A 2012 study conducted by Indian Council for Medical Research found that less than 38% of menstruating girls spoke to their mothers about it.

A 2015 survey conducted by the Ministry of Education found that in about 63% of schools, the teachers themselves never taught girls about periods. More than 60% of adolescent girls reported their schools as not having a proper method of disposal of sanitary products; in rural areas, only 2-3% of females are estimated to be using sanitary pads regularly.

This is why it’s no surprise that 23 Million girls drop out of school once their period starts, annually. A study stated that while 80% of rural India women knew about sanitary napkins, only 30% used it regularly. This is because pads are way too expensive for them, and this leads them to use other alternatives, which are clothes.

Cloth pads are sustainable and eco friendly. Many urban women also use cloth pads as standard sanitary pads can cause rashes and burden the environment. Cloth pads shouldn’t be shared between family members, but that’s precisely what is happening in India’s parts.

Meenakshi Sharma, the coordinator for Menstrual Hygiene Management, WASH Alliance, says that “It has been seen in rural areas that two-three women of the same family use the same cloth during menstruation, after washing and drying it. This is extremely unhealthy and brings numerous health risks. Sanitary napkins are a luxury in rural areas and small towns. Even if available, women are discouraged from spending on sanitary napkins as old clothes or sand is thought to be good enough for something ‘dirty’ like menstruation“.

Although women all around have learned about sanitary products and sustainable versions of them, we still have a long way to go about providing them safer and more hygienic periods by encouraging them to not be shy about the questions they might have about their experiences and making sure they know what a healthy period and a healthy vagina looks like.

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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.

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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.

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