In India, 335 million women belong to the menstruating age, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the Indian population. Yet, menstruation remains to be a significant concern for gender parity. Several myths about the biological phenomenon are still prevalent in the country and push school-going girls to drop out after puberty. Lack of toilets for girls and inaccessibility to clean water are amongst the most cited reason for dropping out from school in rural areas. The facility of sanitary napkin dispensers in all schools in the country is still a far, far ambitious target to achieve.
A report titled Dignity For Her mentioned that, on average, girls tend to miss schools almost six days of the month after reaching puberty. Overall, nearly 23 per cent of girls drop out of school after maturing. The report stated that nearly 63 million adolescent girl children out of 120 million lack access to private toilets. This figure is more than Italy's population and almost equivalent to the population of the United Kingdom.
Menstruation is a taboo topic in the country. Therefore, those who advocate for the cause also do not have adequate information on the subject. In a shocking revelation, 71 per cent of women with menstruating daughters considered the phenomenon 'dirty' and 71 per cent of girls remained unaware of the process until they get their first period. In 2014, a UNICEF report mentioned that more than 79 per cent of women and girls in Tamil Nadu, 66 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, 56 per cent in Rajasthan and 51 per cent in West Bengal remained unaware about menstrual hygiene practices.
Ambuja Cement Promotes Menstrual Hygiene
Ambuja Cement Foundation has initiated a menstrual hygiene programme across seven locations to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene, particularly in rural areas. Ambuja Cement has partnered with a global interior fittings specialist from Germany, Hafele, to better implement the same. Together, the two organisations will set up sanitary making machines or sanitary napkin dispensers. Along with installing the dispensers, awareness measures to educate rural households would also be undertaken to make the locals sensitive about the issues.
Pearl Tiwari, the CEO and Director of Ambuja Cement Foundation, said that menstrual hygiene is a part of public health. "The main challenge is to manage the shame, taboos and several myths attached to periods and menstrual hygiene. We need to work dedicatedly by identifying gaps and creating awareness to bring effective behaviour change in not just women but in the whole society."
She also added that male members of the society have a crucial role to play; therefore, increasing awareness for them is also a part of the programme. Menstrual hygiene and anaemia have a massive role in the overall development of girls in rural areas. Anaemia is one of the significant concerns in public health, and adolescent girls are the most vulnerable to the disease for several reasons.
Padma Gupta, the Director of Human Resources and Customer Service for South Asia for Hafele, said that the organisation believes in making partnerships that benefit society. In this collaboration with Ambuja Cement Foundation, she said that the company hoped to take menstrual hygiene management a notch up by imparting sanitation education and supporting young girls and women.
The purpose of the activity is to strengthen the women with support and adequate capacity towards improving the four pillars of menstrual hygiene management: access to knowledge and information, access to safe menstrual absorbents, wash structures, and their maintenance and safe disposal of sanitary napkins.
A report by the World Journal of Anaemia revealed an astonishing correlation between anaemia and poor menstrual health. Surprisingly, a similar relationship was observed concerning the academic performance of girls as well. Women suffering from anaemia are more likely to experience heavy bleeding during their periods. Heavy bleeding was reported in 87.5 per cent of anaemic women compared to 39.4 per cent of non-anaemic women, a report by National Centre for Biotechnology Information mentioned.
Napkins To Be Manufactured By SHGs
The Ambuja Cement Foundation will establish biodegradable sanitary napkin making machines through rural women federations, and the output would be strictly monitored. The sanitary napkins would be manufactured by the Self Help Groups (SHG) of rural women under the Ambuja Cement Foundation's income generation and livelihood projects. For easy access to women in several locations, the foundation would instal vending machines at schools and standard points.
Apart from private companies taking up such initiatives to uplift women and children in urban and rural areas of the country, the government is also taking several steps in the right direction. For instance, a scheme named 'Stri Shakti' was launched to improve menstrual hygiene and spread knowledge and awareness about the proper disposal of soiled menstrual napkins.
Under the scheme, sanitary pad dispensing schemes were supposed to be installed in small and micro industries to be made available to women at ₹1. In the scheme's final phase, the government had decided to establish such machines in government schools after identifying the target areas.
Keeping up with its progressive approach towards Gender parity, Kerala became the first state to ensure sanitary napkin vending machines in all government schools. In as many as 150 schools in Kerala's capital Thiruvanthapuram, sanitary napkin vending machines named Vendigo were installed. This is an empowering step towards countering the age-old gender discrimination beliefs in the country.
If girls have access to clean bathrooms in schools, the dropout rates would significantly decrease. Thus it will reduce the gender gap between boys and girls, ensuring that girls have access to safe, clean water and safe spaces to change their sanitary napkins government's responsibility. Government schools must impart awareness and education to both boys and girls to increase sensitivity on these important areas that often go undiscussed due to the taboo attached to them.