Menstrual Hygiene is one of the most ignored health concerns for women in India, less than 36% women in India use Sanitary Napkins rest use Cloth or Leaves according to National Family Health Survey 2015-16. Taboo, lack of Awareness, Fear, lack of access to Safer options, Cost, lack of access to clean Water are some of the reasons for a very high rate of Reproductive Tract Infections (RTIs) among women in India.
When it’s about Menstrual Hygiene off late there have been different arguments by different groups related to Environment and the impact of unscientific disposal of Sanitary Napkins on Environment. Yes, being aware of the Environmental impact of everything we are doing as a civilization is not only critical to our Environment but it’s critical for the future of Planet Earth.
Given the multi-dimensional challenges creating mass Awareness about Menstrual Hygiene has to be the top priority, it cannot be an event or announcement but a project where the impact or outcome can be measured continuously.
Awareness and access to Sanitary Napkins in Urban, semi-Urban and Rural areas are imbalanced, less than 20% of Rural women use Sanitary Napkins. Several Government schemes provide free Sanitary Napkins to girls in Government Schools/Colleges, which has indeed increased the attendance of girls even during their menstrual cycle and enabled them to participate in extra circular activities too. Sanitary Napkins have not only given women/girls the freedom from unhygienic practices but helped many to overcome the painful monthly menstrual cycles.
Even when many women/girls still use Cloth without choice or access to preferred options Environmental Activists claim use of Cloth as an Eco-friendly option there by ignoring the glaring fact that it’s not only unhygienic, uncomfortable but curbs the freedom of women/girls every month forcing them to wash the Cloth to re-use without assessing if there is adequate clean water or toilets to do so. If one who has the luxury of time, water, space and chooses to use re-usable Cloth Napkin that should be fully encouraged but forcing upon option that may be impractically must be avoided in the interest of women/girl health.
Menstrual Cups are promoted as an Eco-friendly alternative but this also has serious limitations. In a country that is obsessed by ‘virginity’ young unmarried women may not be keen either and Tampons itself has less takers for the very same reason. Also, Menstrual Cups are completely an upscale market option not by cost but by process. Anyone using Menstrual Cups has to have access to clean toilets with clean running water and the ability to deal with a cup of their own blood too.
8 out of 10 women/girls suffer for some kind of discomfort, stomach or body ache during their menstrual cycle, they work few times harder than their male counterparts in every field and a monthly biological process should not add on to already existing discrimination. Hence, choice of using Sanitary Napkin, Cloth Napkin, Tampons, Menstrual Cups should be left to the women/girls based on their Comfort & Sustainability, and blaming women/girls for their choice should not be a choice for others.
Forcing Environment responsibility without considering health aspect of women/girls is definitely nothing less than Gender Bias. Also burden of being Eco-friendly cannot be sole responsibility of women/girls because of their biological make, its high time companies that are making Sanitary Napkins or Tampons develop Eco-friendly and Biodegradable products. Governments across the country has to take up massive Menstrual Hygiene Awareness programs and work towards an effective treatment for Sanitary Waste.
Lake Activist & Congress Spokesperson