Every Women has a right to Sanitary- Mind or Body
I am writing this post for "The idea Caravan" in association with Franklin Templeton India and Indiblogger. Franklin Templeton has partnered with TedX Gateway Mumbai last December and shared few videos of the speakers on various aspiring/innovation topics ranging from traditional women empowerment to housing to water issues to technological innovations like paper electronics and more. I chose to write about the issue close to my heart and highlighted by Arunachalam Muruganandam on Sanitary napkins AKA female personal hygiene.
In our cause of women empowerment and safety, we often ignore a very crucial aspect of child and women welfare is- safety & hygiene. Nature has made a woman quite different from a man and accordingly gave her few things including the right to give birth to another life and a whole internal process to deal with. I am talking about the monthly menstrual cycle that a woman has to go through since the age of 12.
If a child is a father of a man, then woman indeed is the mother of that child and father. Hence it is very important for a woman to be healthy and strong.
Like Arunchalam said, I am too worried about the little educated women over surplus educated when it comes to sanitary needs.
Fighting the Taboo
As a kid, I have often seen white, blue packs of "Carefree" with flower covers lying in my mother's closet. She will often wrap them in brown paper bag and tuck on the highest shelf of the cupboard, away from our prying eyes and exceeding curiosities. Me and my younger brother would wonder about the nature of product and all our questions about it would be easily dismissed off by our mother. We would then brainstorm about the possible usage of product. Our best bet would be- it is a filler for cushions or a napkin to wipe off face. I once contemplated it as a small mattress for my barbie doll that I can wrap in a kerchief and add to my doll house.
When we grew up and I was in class 7th, I discovered an evil called "Periods". It was a crafts class and the entire class was in crafts room working on their stuff except for a girl called Sushma who used to sit just behind me. Wondering on her whereabouts, I inquired with few students from my class who chose to dismiss my question. Some told she is not well. Worried, I went to the class to find her seating there. When I asked she said nothing but just that she is not feeling well and want to go home. In our school there was a norm that whenever a student doesn't feel good, the class would jump to volunteer to escort them home. This time surprisingly, there was no participation.
I asked her if she wants to go home and with great dismay she looked at me and asked if am sure to drop her. I said why not, my pleasure and asked her to stand up. there were lot of hush-hush in the class and quite some student have entered the class. When she got up, I saw her wearing a white skirt which was stained with red color. Unaware about the issue, I took her hands and walked with her till her home and returned back to my class. A lot of student circled me with wonder and started asking questions. It was only when another classmate told me about the red color on her skirt as -period. I still was not clear and when asked, she laughingly dodged my question telling me that I'll know when I grow up. It was a strange incidence and all I could gather was that period is a dangerous thing and anyone suffering from it becomes a social outcast.Talking, discussing about the menstrual issues is a societal taboo in our country. It is often seen as derogatory or unsuitable topic.
Facts & Figures
Inadequate menstrual protection is a serious hindrance in everyday's life. Here' some cruel stats to support my argument-
Women population in India-
Women using Sanitary napkin in India- <5 nbsp="" p="">
% of non sanitary napkin using women suffering from RTI (Reproductive Tract Infection)- 75%
Minimum 23% of girls drop outs from school after they start menstruating
Do you know a lot of women sleep without food on average 5 days a month cause she couldn't go to work due to menstrual pains and inadequate protection. If you still think, I am fumbling and you are a girl, pl use a strip of cloth or a leaf during your cycle and you will know what it mean to carry weights on your head while using such exotic things.
We often take pride in aping west esp USA etc but little do we adopt is best practices from such countries where sanitary napkin usage is >96%.
Data Source: AC Nielson survey- "Sanitary Protection: Every Woman's Health Right", and Google.com
As per the study conducted, women who do not use sanitary napkin uses sack cloth, rag material, plant leaves, saw dust and even ashes during menstrual cycle. Can you imagine typing up a piece of cloth or cactus soaked in blood to your most inner part and living with it for at least 72hours in row? Women think about it. Men just think about the PMS and you need not have to worry thinking these as that thought itself would tear u down.
What prevents Indian women from using sanitary napkin
To my mind, the biggest reason is lack of awareness followed by affordability and to a great extend- accessibility.
Lack of awareness: A lot of women are devoid of any knowledge about existence of sanitary napkins/towels. While some are, they are often lead with mis-beliefs on it that using it causes heavy menstrual flow etc. While some women know about it, what they do not understand is how this can be ultra comfortable over the mode they use/endorse and how it maintain internal hygiene health of a female.
Affordability: A majority of women if asked to choose between a packet of milk for a family or buying a napkin for self, would chose the former. Blame it on high cost of sanitary napkins or self ignorant mode of women in India, this issue still persists.
An average napkin cost minimum Rs 3/- (cost varies from low quality to high) whereas Indian political diaspora claims s 5/- as the adequate cost for a good one time meal. In such scenarios, little do I expect them to think about the problems as faced by women.
A majority of Indian population lives in rural India where availability of sanitary napkin is still question mark. And if available, accessibility is difficult. These napkins are considered expensive as cost of manufacturing is high and in absence of locally available machines, companies have to import expensive machines from abroad involving high level of investments.
Talking about cost again, if rural India can afford daily dose of tobacco and all smoking products, then buying a napkin is not a big deal. Nor is it a devil that will do harm to anyone's body.
Accessibility: Sanitary pad v/s Condom
Going to a shop and buying a sanitary napkin is considered quite an embarrassing thing for a person including men. It is like a women finds it easier to deliver another child than shopping for a birth control pill in the market. No matter how natural the process is, still buying a napkin pack is equivalent to embarrassment faced by while buying a condom, men or women.
Problem is the beginning of solution
Now that we know major reasons behind low penetration, it becomes easier to target those cause and ring change. A lot of NGO and social agencies including UNICEF are taking up to this cause and working towards it. We are still miles behind in this from developed nations and increased awareness would lead to change and act as a catalyst for national growth as well. The proposed solutions are-
1. Education, education and heavy education on this subject to create more awareness
2. Promoting indigenous technologies and bringing down the cost of the products
3. Enforcing more gender equality in country especially rural parts to sanitize Indian men towards the cause.
4. Creating remote napkin booth/ kiosks and improve accessibility.
5. Top FMCG companies can come forth and drive this initiative across country may be in name of CSR
6. Female politicians may be when you are doing that prestigious election campaigns, may consider distributing free napkin packets than Rs 200 to bring forth awareness.
A healthy women makes a healthy generation. Gone are the days when monthly cycles were considered as the social taboos and women suffering from it were isolated in one dark corner of the house. Today's India is more empowered and more sensitive towards it's women. So tell me are you up for making India a 100% sanitary napkin using country? Raise your hands. If you can't raise the level of your thinking cause it is not hygienic and needs a "sanitary clean up".
Here's the video- It is an amazing video and I loved the way the speaker has opened, proceeded and concluded this sensitive subject. I appreciated the fact how he treated the subject with utmost ease and humor, engaging audience on his subject matter.
Franklin Templeton Investmentspartnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.5>