By – Aruushi Gupta
Menstruation is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as a part of a woman’s monthly cycle In modern days, women use sanitary pads during menstruation. The concept of sanitary pads was brought up by the nurses in France in order to tackle excessive bleeding during a war (2013). However, with growing realization of high costs of menstruation, research for alternative ways was commenced, which ended up at menstrual cups and cloth pads to fight period poverty. Such prescient solutions addresses not only affordability but also ensures greater health benefits. However, challenges remain of stigmas and prejudices which might hinder the transitional process.
The Current Scenario and Factor Identification
According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, only 36 percent of women in India use sanitary pads, that is, out of 336 million women, only 121 million women use a sanitary pad (Upadhyay, 2019). The condition in India is miserable. There are two broad factors attributed to this ‘period-poverty’.
Adolescent girls really do not have an access to any information on menstruation for which they refer their female heads, who themselves lack knowledge, commences a vicious cycle of growing vulnerability and mental health problems. 71 percent girls in India have no information on menstruation (Geertz et al., 2016).
In addition, a lot of girls and women have no access or limited access to menstrual products as they are out of their reach and perhaps poor families tend not to spend a dedicated monthly amount on buying sanitary pads, given the patriarchal attitudes at the household levels.
The overall picture in India is very skewed in terms of percentage of women using hygienic methods during menstruation. Safe methods include sanitary pads, tampons and menstrual cups. Among the states, Mizoram is the front runner with 93.4 percent of women using safe products. This is followed by Tamil Nadu and Kerala with 91.4 and 90 percent respectively.
Bihar is the worst performing state with only 31 percent, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Tripura with 37.6 and 43.5 percent respectively (Pacha, 2018).
Problems relating to Disposable Sanitary Pads
The disposable sanitary pads are still a far-fetched dream for many girls and women in India. One of the common reasons cited is that most of them are incapable of buying a packet of sanitary pads. The sanitary pads market in India is mainly governed by the multinational firm Proctor and Gamble (P&G).The cost tends to be high. The pandemic itself has hit the girls, especially for the poor as the families have lost incomes and thus either unwilling or cannot afford to buy a pack of napkins (BBC News, 2020).
The disposable sanitary pads- the name itself indicates that it is one-time use only. Sanitary pads are made up of harsh chemicals such as styrene, chloromethane,acetone, chloroethane etc. The blood absorbing gels and the plastic used to make absorbent sheets pose a major danger to the environment. According to the Menstrual Health Alliance India, one sanitary pad may take upto 500-800 years to decompose. India has around 36 percent women using them, making their environmental footprint high. The waste in India, despite the segregation drives, have not been taken up by people, therefore, the majority of used sanitary pads land in already operating landfills (Sambyal et al., 2019).
An alternative- Menstrual Cup
A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped, flexible cup which is inserted inside the vagina during periods. The cup collects the blood for upto 12 hours and then can be thrown away and washed and re-inserted for another 12 hours (Banerjee, 2019).
The cups are reusable and therefore need not to be bought repeatedly. The Tampon tax could be a major reason for making menstrual pads costlier. A tampon tax is a tax which is levied on menstrual products. India, among many countries, has scrapped percent tampon tax in 2015 (Jones, 2018).
Case Study: Freedom Cups (2018)
Freedom Cups is a startup, initiated by three Singaporean sisters who aim to distribute menstrual cups in low income countries. It aims to increase access to safe menstrual practices and ensure women’s health. They first visited a small village in the Philippines and faced challenges of explaining women that are safe to use.
The cups last for ten years, making it affordable for the poor families. One fact sighted by the founders is that the cups can be used upto 12 hours making it useful in places where there are no toilets and electricity.
The company has distributed upto 3000 cups across 16 countries including India, Cambodia, Nepal among others
Challenges with Menstrual Cups
Stereotypes relating to menstrual cups are a major factor that affects a woman’s psychology while buying a menstrual cup. The menstrual cup is believed to affect women’s sexuality as there exists fear of breaking the hymen. The breaking of hymen should not occur as it hampers women’s virginity.
The first time usage is a little difficult. Most women are unable to insert the cup inside the vagina, therefore reducing the degree of acceptance. Most of the companies are still making sanitary pads and unwilling to invest in menstrual cups, therefore less marketing makes them inaccessible even in urban areas.
Menstrual cups offer a good alternative to the conventional sanitary pads for two broad reasons-reusable and cost effective. Though we see a minimal use of menstrual cup these days in the entire world, owing to lack of awareness and accessibility at the market places, it can be said as time passes by, with more women taking up education and becoming aware about menstrual hygiene and environmental factor related to it, the degree of acceptance will surge that would result in rise in use of menstrual cup across every section of women. The mothers are the main source of information which passes from one generation to the other. If we are able to successfully convince mothers, things are going to change a lot.
Thus it could be said that the future of sustainable menstruation is bright in India along with the other parts of the world as well.
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- BBC News. (2020, May 22). Coronavirus sparks a sanitary pad crisis in India. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52718434
- Geertz, A., Iyer, L., Kasen, P., Mazzola, F., & Peterson, K. (2016, May). Menstrual Health in India | Country Landscape Analysis. FSG. https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FSG-Menstrual-Health-Landscape_India.pdf
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- Pacha, A. (2018, May 28). Mapped: menstrual hygiene across the States in India. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/mapped-menstrual-hygiene-across-the-states-in-india/article24016449.ece
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- S. (2013, June 24). The History of the Sanitary Pad. Femme International. https://femmeinternational.org/the-history-of-the-sanitary-pad/
- Sambyal, S., Henam, S., & Tariang, F. (2019, May 29). Is green menstruation possible? Down To Earth. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/waste/is-green-menstruation-possible–64796
- Upadhyay, A. (2019, May 28). Menstrual Hygiene Day Facts: Only 36 Percent Of The Women In India Use Sanitary Pads During Periods. NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth Swachh India. https://swachhindia.ndtv.com/menstrual-hygiene-day-facts-26-percent-use-sanitary-pads-periods-34309/