It is the 21st century, India is changing, yet the taboo girdling menstruation remains the same. It still prevails to be a “dirty” biological occurrence, to be spoken in a hushed voice. While the male dominant society impacts the prevalence of the stigmas, even women have accepted the myths of impureness regarding menstruation and have passed it down to generations.
What is Period Poverty?
The lack of accessibility to sanitary products, hygiene facilities, education and information about menstruation, all collectively has been given the term ‘period poverty’. According to UNFPA, period poverty describes the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products. The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability women face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies. These include not only menstrual pads and tampons, but also related costs such as pain medication and underwear. Period poverty ultimately results in individuals abstaining themselves from attending schools, work or even participating in daily life chores, paving way to embarrassment to even talk about it. This is evident from the fact that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually in India once they start menstruating due to lack of sanitation facilities.
Period Poverty in India
Period poverty is a persistent issue in India due to the cultural stereotypes existing in the minds of people. India has approximately 355 million menstruating women and girls and millions out of them go through this ‘period poverty’. Reports state that just 36% of India’s menstruating female population use sanitary pads. 1 in 10 girls below the age of 21 cannot afford sanitary products and thus use unhygienic substitutes leading to reproductive health issues. A country whose majority belongs to below the poverty line, the families have to choose between food or sanitary products.
Covid 19 and Period Poverty
The covid-19 pandemic just exacerbated the situation and did not really prove to be gender neutral. On March 24th, 2020 when the government announced lockdown all across the country, the enlistment of period products in the list of essential items were completely neglected resulting in the shortage of pads over the following next weeks.The pandemic did not stop the periods but the inaccessibility to period products, making the economically weaker society suffer the most. The females in the rural areas who depend on the government subsidized products were completely marginalized.
84% of females had restricted or no access to sanitary napkins over the lockdown period that made the old unhygienic practices of using cloth during menstruation recur to scene. The intercession of several groups and NGOs working for women's cause, prompted the government to add sanitary pads to the list of essential items on March 29,2020.
Period Products - A luxury
According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21, despite impressive gains in the last five years, as many as 27% of young rural women still use unhygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period. Around 57% of rural women, and 50% overall, also said they used cloth for the purpose at some point. Period products have become a luxury at this date where the section who cannot afford hygienic products, use unsafe alternatives like rags, ashes, husk and even sand.
The cheapest sanitary product available in the Indian market costs ₹22 a pack containing 6 non reusable sanitary napkins. Enactus JMI, through Project Shrimati, provides reusable sanitary napkins at lower prices than the toxic plastic counterparts with a lifespan of 12 months. Thus saving up to ₹3,03,000 or $4,040. The product is a result of rigorous research and testing, made of three organic layers containing Polar Fleece, Bamboo, Banana fibre and Lycra fabric. With the eco-friendly design and sustainable aspect, Shrimati pads make menstruation a safe and affordable experience.
As in case of recession, the economy faces negative growth and the GDP declines, people fail to meet their basic needs as there is high unemployment.Similarly due to period poverty females all across the world lack the economic and financial support to buy sanitary facilities which is as essential as having nutritional food. They are reluctant to buy sanitary pads, even though that affects their health drastically. For them it is more important to feed their family than buy a pad to keep them safe. In the face of this recession, we need to give equal attention to period poverty to make the lives of millions of mothers, daughters, sisters and wives safe.
In conclusion, the government and NGOs need to come up with different projects and schemes tackling the ‘period poverty’ before it becomes an inevitable issue making the women section of the country suffer through horrendous situations. Project Shrimati is striving best to contribute to the same.