The Health and Environmental Implications
Data from the government’s family and health survey for 2015-2016 shows that lakhs of Indian women do not use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual cycles.
In the age group of 15-24, only 57.6% of women use hygienic methods. This means that 42.4% of women use unhygienic methods of protection or perhaps no protection at all.
The Central government has been trying to increase information about menstruation and thus reduce the stigma around it through various awareness campaigns and programs. “Menstrual hygiene management is a priority for us. We understand that in order to empower adolescent girls to live a healthy and dignified life, menstruation needs to be recognized as a health concept,” says Dr. Ajay Khera, deputy commissioner in the Union health ministry.
Among those who do use hygienic methods, sanitary napkins are most popular with a 42% uptake. Meanwhile, 62% of women surveyed use cloth. The government’s survey considers locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins and tampons to be “hygienic methods of protection,” whereas cloth and other methods are considered unhygienic.
The number is of course much higher in urban areas – at 77.5% – but a worryingly low figure of 48.2% of women in rural India use hygienic protection.
The data also shows that the more schooling a woman has, the likelier it is that she will use a hygienic method. For example, only 19.95% of women with no schooling use hygienic methods, whereas 80.9% of women who have had at least 12 years of schooling use hygienic methods.
Across major religious groups, Hindus and Muslims are at a similar level of usage of hygienic methods, very close to the national percentage –57.6% – with 57.3% of Hindu women making use of hygienic methods and 53.9% of Muslim women doing the same. Scheduled Caste women are also close to the national rate, with 54.5% women using hygienic methods. Scheduled Tribe women lag behind – at 40.3%
1. Sanitary napkins: The Impact on Environment
The most common menstrual hygiene product in India is sanitary napkin which is disposable and they can have an adverse impact on the environment due to the huge amounts of plastics they contain.
2. What Exactly Happens Due To Poor Menstrual Hygiene?
We often hear that unhygienic period health and disposal practices can have major consequences on the health of women, but what exactly is at risk here? Every person – male or female should be aware of the diseases that could be caused if a woman does not have access to menstrual hygiene products. The issue can increase a woman’s chances of contracting cervical cancer, Reproductive Tract Infections, Hepatitis B infection, various types of yeast infections and Urinary Tract infections, to name a few.
3. Menstruation And Impact On Education
A 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled ‘Spot On!’ informed that almost 23 million girls in India drop out of school annually, because of a lack of menstrual hygiene management facilities, including the availability of sanitary napkins and awareness about menstruation. The report further suggests that the girls, who don’t drop out, usually miss up to 5 days of school every month.
Women and especially schoolgirls in India face the daunting task of maintaining their sanitary health during the ongoing pandemic. In 2018, the Indian
government launched its ‘Ujjwala Sanitary Napkin’ initiative under which women were to get access to low-cost sanitary pads. To provide school-going girls with free sanitary pads, vending machines were installed in government schools. However, due to the continued closure of such schools in the nationwide lockdown, a critical part of the supply chain of these pads has been compromised causing a sudden deprivation of sanitary pads. This exposes economically weak women to a high risk of sanitation-related diseases and complications.
Menstrual hygiene education is taboo in India. Women find it difficult to openly ask for sanitary products from a male family member (who generally fetch goods from the market). Women, especially in rural areas, are confined to their homes and depend on male or elderly female household members for procuring sanitary products.
Due to the lack of clean, private, safe water and sanitation facilities, women are unable to practice personal sanitary hygiene like changing the menstrual pads, washing cloth pads, and drying them in sunlight for proper disinfection. Due to the scarcity of pads, girls limit their food and water intake to minimize their use of the toilet so that they don’t have to change pads as regularly. These practices could lead to severe health issues in the longer run.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the social divide that exists in India even today. Even after all these years, the Indian society still carries the patriarchal mindset as a result of which there is a disparity between the status of a man and a woman. On one hand, men are considered independent and bread earners of the family, on the other hand, women are seen as dependents whose primary duty is to look after the household. As a result of this, women fail to achieve economic independence, which makes them rely on men for procuring sanitary products, which have become even more expensive owing to the shortage in their supply. This economic subduing coupled with the absence of gender equality lets the male assume the dominating role in the family, making women's needs completely dependent on men.
The discrimination does not end here as economic status has a major role to play as well. Gender inequality is a major concern, but so is the economic divide that exists between women. While on one hand, the elite class women have the ease of getting their sanitary products delivered to their doorsteps, while on the other hand the poor and downtrodden still struggle to make their ends meet when it comes to basic sanitation products. The gender and economic divide have led to the subduing of women, especially those from marginalized or rural communities, that lack access to education and in absence of awareness programs maintaining sanitation for them become a luxury.
The failure of the government to broadcast sanitation awareness programs or to include sanitary products as essentials in the first place reflects the continuous neglect of women and their basic sanitary needs in India. Though the government included sanitary pads as essentials, nothing was done to balance demand and supply disruptions. Further, no efforts were made to open centers for providing sanitary pads to replace schools as distributors. Such a discriminatory approach towards women and their requirements need to be brought to an immediate halt.
The present crisis has laid the cornerstone for an even greater problem in the future. Due to quintessentially negligible support from the government, many sanitary pad manufacturing centers have moved on to produce PPE kits, masks, etc. in order to ensure a steady income. The reduction in dedicated units will likely mean that production will not return to normal and a shortage will persist even after the lockdown is ended.
The UN General Assembly adopted two resolutions, one in 2010 and the other is 2015, which recognized human rights to sanitation and clean water. The 2015 resolution especially pressed on sanitation and called upon states to ensure women’s proportionate participation in decision making related to sanitation management and practices.
Hope and Helping hand for Human spreading awareness to communities about the right nutrition during maternity, distributions of nutritions & Sanitary pad in slum & Jhuggi, etc.