Written By: Neha Mahindrakar
On 25th November 2020, Scottish parliament passed The period Products (Free Provision) Bill, making Scotland the first country that now requires local authorities to ensure that period products are generally obtained free of cost. The groundbreaking legislation however brings to light the persisting stigma and general unawareness revolving around menstrual health and hygiene. Female hygiene products are subject to tax referred to as ‘tampon tax’ in several countries, unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products that are considered as basic necessities.
In India, a country of 136 crore people, of which 35.5 crore are menstruating women, Menstruation remains a biological event shrouded by mystery and taboo, not even spoken about openly. This makes the condition of menstrual Health in our country grimmer. A country landscape analysis done by the FSG on the menstrual health of India in 2016 revealed that -
1. Girls do not consistently have access to education on puberty and menstrual health. In India, 71% of girls report having no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. 2. Girls do not have consistent access to preferred, high-quality menstrual health management (MHM) products. Almost 88% of women and girls in India use homemade alternatives, such as an old cloth, rags, hay, sand, or ash. 3. Women and girls lack access to appropriate sanitation facilities. There are 63 million adolescent girls living at homes without toilets.
A 2014 study conducted by the NGO Dasra reported that 23 million girls drop out of school every year once they start menstruating.
These statistics are scary and are getting worse. The 3- 7 day ordeal that usually begins when any girl turns about 13 marks the beginning of ‘womanhood’. However over the next 30 years, this woman is subjected to discrimination and humiliation.
Because of the stigma associated with the process, women all over the country, mostly in rural areas, are not allowed to step outside their houses, not allowed to enter the kitchen, temples and even forbidden to touch other members of the family for as long as they are menstruating.
Urban India is not free of these patriarchal shackles either.
How many times have you and I carefully wrapped a pad in newspaper and carried it discreetly to the washroom so as to not catch anyone’s eye? How many times have we said ‘stomach pain’ to those male P.E. teachers because we didn’t want them to get embarrassed? The journey towards a stigma free society is a long one but there are some undeniable glimpses of hope. The first instance being the passing of the bill in 2018 by the Indian government which called for exemption of taxes from all sanitary products. The second instance revolves around Arunachalam Muruganantham, a welder from Coimbatore who invented a machine to make low cost sanitary pads after he saw his wife use ‘old rags’. His innovation has created hundreds of rural women entrepreneurs whose combined effort provides surplus sanitary products all across rural India. His life has inspired the Bollywood movie 'Pad-man'. In IPL 2020, Rajasthan Royals’ lead sponsor was a female hygiene product brand called ‘Niine’.
These changes are small but significant. The long-term solution, however, is to work towards removing the stigma attached to menstruation, normalizing conversation and creating awareness among young girls and their families.
In the end, it is simply a biological process. A complicated and important one but is it complicated enough to deny a girl her education?