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Stains of period poverty : Human dignity as risk ?

Updated: Jan 10

Guest Opinion

Credits: PA Images

Scotland's move to provide period products including sanitary pads and tampons free of cost to anyone who needs them is worthy of applause. The sanitary products (free provision) (Scotland bill) introduces a legal right of free access of period products in schools, colleges, universities, and other public domain buildings. Interestingly, the bill forwarded by Monica Lennon, Labour Health Spokeswomen, was passed by 121 votes to zero i.e. it won the support of the Scottish Government and other opposition parties as well.

When we associate all these provisions to the context of India, it alarmingly urges the need of lowering our 'period poverty' scale. Digging into this concept, there are over 356 million menstruating women and girls in India, and only 121 million that is 36% are using sanitary napkins (according to the official census of India 2011). In India, menstruation is not at all the topic to be discussed in the public domain, and it is still under a 'black wrap' mainly due to a 'period stigma' attached with menstruation and often symbolic to cultural issues making up our normative aspect. Period taboos are often regarded as a part of life or a better lay down for menstruating women but often it never strikes in anyone's vision that these do have an effect on upholding values of human dignity for women mainly in terms of personal hygiene.

As period poverty put financial constraints on women to cope up with their menstrual supplies, nearly 88% of women in India use homemade alternative such as old clothes, rags, hay, or Ash (As per a study conducted by FSG foundation sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) for managing excessive bleeding. Switching on a new turn onto this, it is wrong to acknowledge that only women alone suffer in this. The diseases caused by unhealthy periods include cervical cancer, reproductive tract infections, hepatitis B, urinary tract infections (to name a very few) can directly impact the health conditions of next generations too as they are being exposed to prenatal diseases.

Subsequently, due to lack of personal hygiene and economic constraints, girls with issues are not encouraged to go to schools on those days which gradually decreases literacy rates. This even widens the vicious circle of 'social differences' in society if seen at a wider and a macro angle. A study conducted by FSG Foundation also spotted that 71% of girls in India report having no knowledge of mensuration before their first period. This increases the vulnerability that they themselves feel alienated from the rest of society and not able to put up menstrual hygiene as an issue to be put forward. Although, society being very passive regarding this critical issue enhances the 'social stigma' and regards this as impure even to be talked and comprehended upon.

Looking at the political perspective of this issue, the government launched a National Menstrual Hygiene Scheme under Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram Program in 2014. The main objective was to promote menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls in rural areas by supplying as well as training self-help groups to make sanitary napkins but this scheme faced a great backlash. Secondly, the Suchi scheme was started in 2013-14 through National Health Mission for instilling awareness regarding menstrual hygiene but still, these measures proved to be inadequate. Even the Karnataka government didn't allocate any funds for the scheme which is now affecting over 17 lakh girls.

Generalization of this issue is the basic need of time today. In the current cognitive pattern, it is regarded as 'shameful' to have discussions about periods in the public domain but these socialization aspects need urgent reform. It seems like menstrual hygiene in the schemes by the government have their importance only on paper. People in this era need to be very open towards this critical issue which directly affects the dignity of women in society.

Heading towards the economic aspect of period poverty the main reason for this is the low availability of cheap period products. Although some enterprises have worked upon this issue still this issue has remained a stagnant one and a major obstacle in reviving from period poverty. We all have heard about 'Padman' who is Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur from Tamil Nadu who initiated to provide low-cost sanitary pads. And this is the need of India at this point. Basically, it is not a Cakewalk, it requires combined efforts of society and government but initially, the complexities of the situation need to be taken not -for- granted.

Maybe, it sounds very peculiar when we associate ideals of human dignity with this unconcerned topic, but at a micro level, it happens to be very derogatory for women to sustain themselves in such a cranky environment. These issues need to be taken to the forefront and some sound legislation is highly required.


By- Anadhi Sharma (Guest Writer)

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