As a female, I can confidently attest to the fact that every person who menstruates has at least once in their life gotten their period unexpectedly. It leads us scrambling to find a restroom and anxiously hoping to see if we have packed a pad or a tampon. This renders us feeling vulnerable, stressed and for some reason even ashamed. This is exacerbated by the stigmas and taboos that surround this hushed topic.
Worldwide, 1 in 10 women don’t have access to menstrual products. Report suggests that 23 million (1 in 5) female students in India drop out from schools due to the onset of their puberty. Others miss at least five days of classes every month. Many resort to unsafe and unhygienic means to combat their period and often end up with preventable diseases. About 70 percent of issues related to the reproductive health of women can be avoided by just providing them with a pad. This data is alarming and draws attention to period poverty and that we are in an ardent need of period equity.
Irony is that the consequences of lack of such products are blatantly avoidable. Providing free period products to anyone who needs them makes it easier for them to fully participate in society. Many countries have took this initiative.
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country to provide tampons and sanitary pads to anyone who needs them. The measure came after the country became the first to start providing period products in schools in 2017. This was soon followed by New Zealand in 2021, Kenya, Uganda and a few states of Australia and the US among a handful of other nations.
But merely handing out free pads or tampons isn’t a solution to the problem. When the government provides free products, they are usually disposable. This in turn gives rise to a plethora of environment related issues. Very rarely or seldom environmentally friendly alternatives like reusable pads, menstrual cups or period underwear are given out.
About 12.3 billion or 113,000 tonnes of used sanitary pads are dumped in landfills in India every year, adding to the already existing plastic pollution in the country. A single sanitary pad takes up to 250-800 years to decompose or may not even decompose at all as each napkin constitutes 90 percent plastic, which is equivalent to around 4 plastic bags. Disposable and commercially available napkins are the most popular kind of products which people opt for.
Social entrepreneurs worldwide are coming up with innovative solutions which make period products accessible, affordable and which do not put a strain on the environment as well. With this shared vision in mind, we at Enactus JMI came up with Project Shrimati. We tried tackling the issues of unemployment, sanitary waste disposal and plastic waste by employing women from underprivileged communities to manufacture reusable sanitary napkins by bamboo and banana fiber. This in turn makes them financially stable and independent.
One concludes that along with providing accessibility through free period products, Education, access to clean toilets, adequate water and addressing the harmful gender norms are mandatory as well.
The need of the hour Is to approach this matter more holistically. A way which combines education, access to affordable and sustainable products and which shatter the belittling stigmas and gender stereotypes. Period.