In a remote village in Gujarat, a 13-year-old girl was embarrassed when she got her first period in school. As it stained her uniform, classmates jeered and mocked her. For many months, every time she got her period, she missed school. The school’s washroom didn’t have water for her basic menstruation hygiene.
While menstruation is a fundamental biological aspect of life, the question arises: "Do women in India, especially in rural areas, have the means to manage menstruation hygienically and dignifiedly?”
In this blog, we will take stock of how women and girls face challenges related to menstruation daily and how scarcity of facilities impacts their lives.
1. The Silent Struggle of Menstruating Women in Rural India
Women in rural India bear a heavy burden, managing their menstrual hygiene in the face of deep-rooted cultural taboos, limited resources, and inadequate access to education.
Though menstruation is the most natural occurrence for a woman, even today, it is not talked about openly in rural India. Many girls lack the awareness that their bodies undergo changes during the onset of menstruation and are unaware of how to manage and regulate it. Quality schools are few and far between in rural areas, and the ones that do exist lack proper teaching facilities and staff. Dropout rates for girls are high, with many dropping out after primary school owing to a lack of facilities.
In rural India, often, menstruation is met with silence and stigma. A 2018 UNICEF study found that 70% of Indian mothers considered periods ‘impure’ and passed this stigma down generations. Menstruating women face exclusion from daily activities, places of worship, and communal kitchens. This cultural stigma chips away at their self-esteem and confines them within the boundaries of tradition, limiting their mobility and participation in social and economic activities.
Economic disparities persist in rural India, meaning many women cannot afford costly disposable sanitary products. These financial constraints push them towards alternative, often unhygienic methods, such as using old cloth, rags, or leaves during their periods. This puts their health at risk and compromises their dignity and overall well-being.
2. The Plight of School-Going Girls
The challenges faced by school-going girls in rural India are particularly disheartening.
Young girls, too, face health risks when they resort to unhygienic alternatives due to the lack of facilities. “I use material from my brother’s torn pants,” said one menstruating girl who resides in a village in Gujarat. Another young girl said, “ I get up before everyone, wash the cloth, and take it down before they wake up.” Such methods of menstrual hygiene lead to Infections, including urinary tract infections and reproductive tract infections, loom as constant threats.
A report by Dasra suggests that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities. (Source- thewire) A sanitation facility close by provides a considerable level of comfort for menstruating girls. It ensures a female gets enough privacy to clean up properly and maintain better hygiene. Re-usable sanitary napkins are a great way of cutting costs and making period hygiene manageable.
School-going girls are not exempt from the economic disadvantages due to the lack of facilities. Missing school leads to missed opportunities and an inability to contribute fully to economic activities. This illustrates how the lack of proper menstrual facilities perpetuates a cycle of inequality. Most of them are destined for low-wage, labor-intensive jobs, which barely provide sustenance. Poverty is a harsh reality, and its crippling effects extend far beyond their economic lives.
3. A Way Forward: Providing Sustainable Solutions
Addressing the urgent need for sustainable menstruation hygiene in rural India is crucial for empowering women and girls. Governments must prioritize the construction of safe washrooms, access to sustainable and reusable products, and proper disposal mechanisms, especially in rural public schools.
UNIPADS, a pioneer in reusable cloth napkins, is making waves for its steps towards sustainable menstruating hygiene in girls. With regular awareness campaigns, women's employment drives, and several CSR activities, UNIPADS is making a lasting impact on women's lives in rural India.
The introduction of cost-effective and environmentally friendly menstrual products and reusable cloth sanitary napkins provides women and girls with a dignified means to manage menstruation. Educational programs in schools and communities equip them with knowledge, dispelling myths and enabling better health management.
Would you like to empower women with affordable menstrual hygiene products? Get in touch with us today!