Menstrual Product Accessibility in India
With over 350 million menstruating individuals situated in every corner of our country, there is a huge need for menstrual products in every region of India. With helpful awareness from several activists over the years, many are now making the shift to safe and hygienic menstrual products which are essential for good menstrual health.
There have been several schemes by not only the central government but even state governments to provide affordable menstrual products to all menstruating individuals. Even the production of products by companies has increased significantly.
Amongst this market expansion, we have also seen the rise of trends such sustainable menstruation and the use of lesser-known products (in India) like menstrual cups, discs and period underwear which has changed the menstrual product market.
Although the market has made a healthy change in attitude towards menstrual products, there is still the problem of accessibility, affordability and availability of all these varied products to all the regions of our country that needs to be addressed.
Especially in rural areas, where the words of the menstrual movement haven’t yet reached, traditional methods to deal with periods are still being employed just due to lack of availability of affordable products for them.
There also are steps that need to be taken concerning sustainable products.
As I move through this article I will talk about the status of menstrual product accessibility in India, focusing on the issues we have and still face in rural areas, availability of sustainable products, the improvements we have made as a country in this aspect, and also touch upon the effect of the pandemic on menstruators over the last year.
The Rural Picture
We do know that before the hike in menstrual awareness came about, a lot of menstruators used home-made methods to manage their periods such as hay and straw which can cause several infectious diseases. As of 2018 around 64% of rural menstruators could not afford period products. It is estimated that around 20% of girls drop out of school after reaching puberty to avoid the humiliation they might face because they are unable to use the right products to manage their period.
Over the last decade, there have been several drives by the Indian governments and many non-profit organisations to improve the availability of menstrual products and it is very exciting to note that there has been significant improvement in the overall menstrual health of menstruators.
6 out of 10 menstruators are now reported to have access to safe and hygienic disposable pads!
According to a survey by NFHS in 2015-16, they noted that overall 58% of the menstruators in our country are using hygienic means to manage menstruation which is a huge number of healthy menstruators and we can hope to see more and more individuals coming under this number if these drives and awareness reaches are continued with more enthusiasm.
Supporting the Sustainability Shift
After tackling the availability of basic menstrual products, we should also address the variety and options that are available to all menstruators. To combat the menstrual waste hills that have been rising over the years, several menstruators have made the sustainable switch to compostable and reusable products. Thus, the demand for these green products has increased, however many are discouraged by their high prices.
It is not possible to completely reduce these prices at the snap of one’s fingers but unknown to several buyers who have turned away due to high prices, is that reusable menstrual products are a beneficial investment. Menstrual cups are money-saving in the long run as compared to cheap non-compostable products. Some also avoid buying these products because they are unsure of how to properly use them and are held back by the myths that surround them - like a menstrual cup causing someone to lose their virginity! Most reusable products are unfortunately exclusively available online which has decreased their reach to menstruators.
I think more workshops and campaigns are required to spread awareness about these products and break the wrong notions that still surround them. By talking about how to use them, how much they cost, how they can benefit one’s period lifestyle and providing people with information on where they can be easily found, more people can be incentivised to buy and use them.
The effect of COVID-19 Pandemic
The pandemic has affected us all in some way. However, being unable to reach for your favourite, or any period product for that matter during your period can come close to being a terrible feeling.
During this pandemic, several menstruators were unable to gain access to menstrual pads for various reasons - production constraints, high costs, and lack of transport during the lockdown. An article on Scroll.in says that only 15% of the menstruators in India had access to pads during this pandemic which is a heartbreaking number.
With the lift of the lockdown, accessibility has certainly gotten better but with the help of several pandemic drives to collect and distribute pads, some of our fellow menstruators were provided with relief.
With more people taking stands and government action we can hope to see a future where every menstruator has access to this necessity and can afford it as well depending on their preferences. Instead of only 58% of menstruating individuals having access to period products and good menstrual health we can soon change this number to 100%!
Written by: Sanjana Gandhi
Graphics by: Ananya Choudhury