Battling Period Poverty in India
Associating menstruation with impurity, degradation, and fear is an unfathomable concept to many of us. However, this is the reality for millions of women and girls worldwide, who struggle with an internalised sense of shame and disgust caused by period stigma and social taboos. The freedom to manage menstruation confidently, safely, and with dignity is a fundamental human right, and the right of every woman and girl.
From Mozambique, Tanzania and India, to Scotland, the United States and Australia, ‘period poverty’ is prevalent. Access to sanitary products and safe, hygienic spaces to use them is a challenge faced by significant numbers of women, no matter their age. A 2018 survey in the UK conducted by sanitary pad manufacturer Always claimed 137,700 girls in the UK missed school in 2017 because they couldn’t afford sanitary items. Similarly, a US study conducted in 2017 found that one in five American girls aged 16 – 24 have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.
In India, young girls and adolescent women often grow up with limited knowledge of why they have periods because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issue with them. 10% of girls in India believe menstruation is a disease, and only 13% of girls are aware of menstruation before their first period. 87% of women and girls have no knowledge of menstruation as a biological process*. For many girls in rural areas, having their period is a reason to quit school due to lack of facilities and appropriate sanitary products.
The coronavirus pandemic highlights ongoing challenges related to menstruation, including lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, interrupted access to products, and lack of access to education to address social taboos and the proper usage and disposal of sanitary items. These factors result in irreversible effects on the personal development, economic status, and emotional and physical health of young women.
In rural India, many women and girls use unsanitary materials such as old rags, husks, dried leaves, grass, ash, sand, or newspapers as ‘sanitary pads’ because they do not have access to affordable and safe products. In Australia, young women have been found using rolled-up socks or toilet paper as sanitary items.
Loreto Sister Monica Suchiang, with the support of Mary Ward International Australia, is working toward ending period poverty in India. Sr Monica and the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre (KMWMC) aim to equip 5000 adolescent girls and women with sanitary pads, training on how to use them, and educate women, girls, and men on health, hygiene, and menstruation. The project titled ‘Landing Pad’ will include the purchase of raw materials for sanitary pad production and best practice, local manufacturing of sanitary pads by KMWSC. Raising awareness will be a key aspect of this project, focusing on training to eliminate the social stigma surrounding menstruation and reproductive health education.
Period poverty is a barrier to global gender equality. No woman or girl should be made to feel unclean, humiliated, or afraid of what is a natural womanly process – ever. Periods should not be an uphill battle of negativity, contempt or disgust. Join the fight to end period poverty.
* Statistics as per India’s National Family Health Survey, 2018
Author: Anna Turkington
Feature Image: Sanitary packet distribution | Body Images: Distribution and manufacturing of sanitary pads.