Menstruation in India is not without its barriers. In India, there are more than 355 million menstruating women and girls. Many of these women do not have access to proper sanitation, and negative attitudes and social norms create barriers to women’s agency and independence.
Poor Knowledge of Menstrual Hygiene Isolates Indian Women
An estimated 88 percent of girls in India who are living in poverty do not have access to disposable sanitary napkins and have to rely on homemade methods. In addition, FSG, a mission-driven consulting firm, identified in a study that 71 percent of girls in India have no knowledge about menstruation before their first period, and 70 percent of women say their families cannot afford hygiene products such as sanitary pads. The study identified that large restrictions on agency and mobility are created when women reach the age of menstruation.
Traditional gender roles and social norms are perpetuated by influential people in girls’ lives, such as their fathers, and often have negative associations. The lack of menstrual hygiene education, social norms and the cost of sanitary products create barriers large enough that women are often isolated, often being kept away from religious spaces and out of school during menstruation.
Khairahi Village Head Seeks to Break Down Barries Raised by Menstruation
One man in Khairahi Village, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is seeking to help eliminate these barriers. Hari Prasad, the village head in Khiarahi Village, noticed significant absences of girls from schools in his village and sought to find out why. In Uttar Pradesh specifically, government data shows that 60 percent of girls miss school on account of menstruation.
“The girls felt embarrassed for something which is the very basis of life,” said Prasad.
Seeing this as an opportunity to help, Prasad took it upon himself to try to lessen and mitigate the barriers raised by menstruation and encourage the girls to return to school to get an education.
He began by tackling social norms. Prasad spoke to the families, in particular to the fathers of the girls in the village, about menstruation in India. He explained to them that menstruation is not something to be stigmatized. Rather, it is a normal, natural process that all women experience, and that the girls should receive support in accessing proper menstrual hygiene.
Project Garima Works to End Stigma Surrounding Menstruation in India
Prasad went even further and partnered with UNICEF’s Project Garima. This program fights against the stigma associated with menstruation in the regions of Uttar Pradesh, Mirzapur, Janupur and Sonebhadra.
Through this partnership, Prasad was able to obtain disposable sanitary napkins and other sanitary supplies for the girls in his village. Through his work, 30 girls who had given up on going to school have now returned to continue their education.
Hari Prasad is taking what is a national problem and tackling it at a local level, with significant and positive results. One man is encouraging girls to get an education and is working to make their lives easier.
– Katherine Kirker