In the India of 21st century, 90% of women living in rural areas have no access to sanitary pads. Out of around 350 million women of reproductive age in India, only 12% have access to sanitary pads or other hygienic methods according to a study by AC Nielsen and Plan India done in 2010. Not to mention that most of India still has no toilets for its people. In such a situation, menstrual cycles become a horrendous time for all females not to mention a hindrance for them to do their daily work. Women drop out of schools and find it hard to go to work. It is clearly holding the economy back as well. According to World Bank data, female participation in the labour force is just about 29%, less than half that of the Asian giant, China, which sees a female participation of 68% in its labour force and even below that of Sudan. These hard statistics point to the fact that menstrual hygiene, availability of infrastructure and conservative mindsets and hush-hush approach to women’s health issues have for long been a recipe for disaster for Indian women stopping them from achieving their potential.
Add to it are the myths and shame that surround the female anatomy. Forget the rural areas, even in cities we find misinformation floating about menstruation ranging from the absurd ‘evil’ to common ‘impure’ and ‘unclean’ that most people consider periods to be. Many women are not allowed go to religious places or enter their kitchen during this period. Some are made to rest and stay away from the family and their normal chores in a separate room. Given the entire building up of shame around menstruation and the hesitation in reaching out to doctors or speaking about reproductive health has set a foundation for poor hygiene and infections of the reproductive tract including UTIs (urinary tract infections) and cervical cancer among women.
The need of the hour is to provide sanitary pads/ menstrual cups to women who are still using methods like rags, leaves and others during their periods. Government organizations, NGOs as well as prominent female hygiene products manufacturers are aiming to take low-cost sanitary pads to far-flung corners of the country along with spreading information about menstrual hygiene. There are projects to build more toilets to provide basic sanitation facilities to girls and women especially in schools. But, it is not enough going by the statistics.
What must I do?
To Spark a Change and to see a perceivable difference on the ground, each one of us has to take an initiative to:
- Reach out to a woman in our immediate surroundings who does not have access to information about menstrual hygiene. This person could be your maid, her daughter or any other female helper that you are in contact with. Spread awareness. Help her understand!
- Pay for the sanitary pads for one or more such women. It does not take much for one set of pads that costs less than Rs. 50 or $1. Surely, we can afford it!
- Write about and promote information about women’s menstrual health. As we can see, there are a lot of myths and grandma’s tales floating around even in educated families about this topic.
- Bring about a change in mindsets: Find time to volunteer for the NGOs to help spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and share your experiences too.
- Stop any discriminating practices that happen to women in your family during their menstrual cycle. Each small step counts! Help another woman get her rights!
Why should I do it?
Simply because I need to! There is no way the nation can progress if half its population is denied basic rights including the right to living their life with dignity and pride. If we, progressive women and men of today, don’t stand up for our lesser privileged sisters, then this country will always lag behind.
I hope that each one of us starts small and in our immediate environment. This is the only way forward to empower Indian women to accept their bodies and feel no shame in openly discussing and taking care of their menstrual needs.
An aware woman is an empowered woman!