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period poverty in India

Period poverty is often described as a lack of access to menstrual education and sanitary products. With 800 million women and girls menstruating daily, this is a subject that concerns half the population around the world. However, the issue is particularly prevalent in India where only 42 percent of women have access to sanitary pads. What is being done to alleviate this common problem? Here are the top five facts about period poverty in India.

Top Five Facts About Period Poverty in India

  1. Increased risk of disease: In India, an estimated 70 percent of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Women often use dirty rags as a replacement for sanitary pads. Even rags that are cleaned can still develop bacteria if not dried properly. Furthermore, 63 million adolescent girls in India, do not have access to a toilet in their homes. Without a clean and private space to change menstrual products, girls are less likely to properly manage their own hygiene
  2. Cultural stereotypes have a huge impact: Menstruation in India is often seen as a shameful conversation. Studies estimate that 71 percent of girls have no knowledge about menstrual health until after their first period. Women are often described as “dirty” while menstruating and are commonly separated in the home when dining, praying or participating in other activities. Some studies suggest that this is due to gender norms that become more prevalent at puberty. In addition, there is no required curriculum surrounding menstrual health in school.
  3. The high cost of sanitation facilities: Third on the list for the top five facts about period poverty in India is the expense of menstrual products. Approximately 70.62 million people in India live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 dollars per day. The average Indian woman needs 300 rupees ($4.20) per month for menstrual products. For low-income households, the cost of sanitary pads is often unattainable. Furthermore, Since most adolescents do not have access to toilets at home, girls are more likely to pay for restrooms in public, which is another unaffordable expense.
  4. Period poverty in India affects education: On average, girls miss six days of class each month due to shame surrounding their periods or a lack of sanitary products. This contributes to the number of girls in India who drop out of school each year, around 23 percent. Girls that leave school are stunted in their careers and are more likely to become child brides. India has the highest number of child brides in the world, with 15.5 million children being married by the age of 18.
  5. Removal of taxes: While some parts of period poverty seem daunting, other parts seem hopeful. In 2017, the Indian government labeled menstrual products as luxury goods. Quickly after the announcement of the new tax, the public gathered to campaign against it. In July of 2018, the government removed the tax, thus making sanitary products more accessible to low-income households.

Working to Improve Conditions

The good news doesn’t end with the removal of taxes. Many positive strides have been taken to address the issues of period poverty. Binti is one organization in India (as well as 11 other countries) aiming to minimize the issue. The nonprofit is fighting for menstrual equality through education, distribution of sanitary products and government advocacy. The World Bank and WASH partnered together to create Menstrual Hygiene Day to spread awareness about the importance of sanitary products for women and girls around the world.

Documentaries have also aided in global education surrounding period poverty. For example, “Period. End of Sentence.” partnered with Action India (a nonprofit aiming to create gender equality) to create a documentary about the situation. The Netflix original was successful in fundraising enough money to install a vending machine of menstrual products in Hapur, India. It was also awarded an Oscar for “best documentary short film, gaining public recognition for its efforts.

Ultimately, when looking at the top five facts about period poverty in India, one can see it is a very prevalent issue. Menstrual inequality is often caused by shame around the conversation as well as the high cost of feminine products. This creates challenges in education and an increased risk of disease. However, many positive strides are being made, and governments are starting to see that this is a cause worth advocating for.

Anna Melnik

Photo: Flickr


Healthcare startup Saathi is on a mission — to empower Indian women through increased access to sanitary pads. Saathi’s unique approach involves recycling discarded banana fibers into a biodegradable and compostable form of feminine hygiene.

Founded in 2015 by MIT graduate Kristin Kagetsu, Saathi addresses the unfortunate reality that only 16 percent of Indian women use sanitary pads during menstruation. Sanitary pads and other feminine hygiene products like tampons and menstrual cups are out of reach for most Indian women because of the cost.

As an alternative, Indian women will either use rags, sawdust, leaves or ashes for feminine hygiene. Unfortunately, these practices can negatively impact cleanliness and, in turn, adversely affect productivity. A 2011 Nielsen study discovered that an alarming 30 percent of girls in northern India dropped out of school once they started menstruating.

Saathi plans to address the cost issue by partnering with NGOs to sell the pads at discounted rates in rural areas and urban slums.

Sustainable Supply Chain
Saathi’s unique approach doesn’t just benefit women, though. The company supports sustainability and local agriculture by purchasing its banana fibers from local farmers. Thrown away before Saathi stepped in, the banana fibers now have a second life after the fruit is harvested. “We realized our strength and uniqueness was in the banana fiber itself. In Gujarat, the plant ends up getting tossed aside on the road,” Kagetsu said.

Kagetsu also acknowledged the importance of their supply chain approach: “Most other pad companies like to think about women as the beneficiaries. That is there, but the greater impact we have is on our supply chain. You can think of it as fair trade and ethical sourcing.”

Sustainability continues on the production floor. Saathi uses a chemical and plastic-free process, and all manufacturing waste is either sold or recycled. Even after the pads are used, the waste products can be recycled as compost feed or used to power biogas systems.

Women Helping Women
Saathi employs nine local women in its Ahmedabad factory. Once considered low-income, these women now enjoy empowerment. The female-led factory produces approximately 1,300 all-natural pads a day.

According to Saathi’s website, it is steadily growing. In Dec. 2016, they announced plans to hire a design engineer, supply chain engineer, an administrative assistant and a sales and distribution lead.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr