After headlines across the globe quoted a disturbing U.N. report published in April that revealed India has more cell phones available per capita than toilets, there is finally better sanitary news coming out of India. The government announced last week that it will be offering highly subsidized sanitary napkins to adolescent girls in rural India, a plan that will benefit 15 million girls in the first phase of the roll-out. Girls below the poverty line will now only need to pay 2 cents for a packet of six pads and will also be taught about personal hygiene in group meetings run by social-health activists who will be implementing the plan.
While we in the West snickered at Apple’s unfortunate choice of the name iPad and discussed the shocking absence of women in the upper echelons of Apple’s marketing machines, our sanitary needs are met by a wide range of products, including the eco-friendly mooncup . Not so in India. Rural Indian women not only face the risk of infections due to their reliance on cotton rags, but many are losing up to a week of school per month because parents consider it “dirty” to let their girls out of the home during menstruation. In the long-term, this contributes to high drop-out and illiteracy rates among young women.
Let us hope that the scheme will not only improve the health and education of Indian women, but also that it will reduce the social stigma attached to menstruation. In many parts of the country, it is a total taboo to talk about one’s monthly bleeding and can even place a question mark over the woman’s morality. Subhash Kuiri, an NGO worker, says that, “Men shy away from discussing periods and sanitation-related issues. In some convoluted manner, a woman’s behavior during her menstrual cycle becomes a barometer to measure her morality. Even if a wife wants to discuss it, the man considers the topic a taboo.”