Individuals and other stakeholders have the determination to bring positive impacts to women’s health in India. Reema Kumari is an aspiring singer who is making an impact on women’s health and hygiene in India. In Indian culture, menstruation is often a taboo subject; people believe that it is unholy and unclean. Hence, the stigma of menstrual health still occurs, even when menstrual health is a normal and healthy part of a women’s life.
Kumari’s devotion to women’s health and hygiene began at the age of 17. She mentored and educated other young women on social issues including the importance of literacy and self-care. She became involved with GARIMA events where she voiced concerns and demanded better methods of sanitation for girls and women. For Kumari, self-care meant having the dignity to attend personal hygiene needs with care and privacy.
Promises and Progress
One of Kumari’s main goals is having access to incinerators for proper disposal of menstrual absorbents. The new Gram Pradhan or the village leader or head of the village heard about Kumari’s concerns and delivered. In addition, the village now has several fully operating incinerators. The work continues as they work to build inside toilets and bathrooms. Moreover, the safety of having an inside toilet adds to the safety and to the dignity of women’s health care. To move forward with construction, funds will go towards the upcoming round of allocations.
The Indian Census of 2011 reported that 89 percent of women live without toilets. Also, only 12 percent can afford sanitary products. Unfortunately, over 355 million people struggle with monthly menstrual cycles. Lack of proper sanitation measures presents public health issues as well as safety issues. Meanwhile, limited indoor facilities force women and girls to make unsafe decisions like using facilities at nighttime which exposes them to the risk of suffering attack.
The Good News
SWaCH is a self-governing organization providing waste-management services including producing and selling yellow plastic bags with strings. These bags offer protection to waste-pickers and a sense of privacy for girls and women. Other NGO grassroots efforts include advocacy on behalf of creating and providing environmentally safe sanitary products. Shockingly, around 58 million sanitary products end up in landfills or sewage systems.
Per the National Family Health Survey, the 2015-2016 cycle estimated that only 36 percent used pads. Old rags and cloths are typical substitutes for pads. As a result, the effects of poor hygiene can lead to the dangers of contracting cervical cancer, reproductive tract infection, hepatitis B and so forth. Mental health issues can manifest in developing low self-esteem and depression. The lack of provisions and the inability to properly care for herself at a sensitive time each month affects how a young woman sees herself and her worth.
Education and Employment
Education for young girls can wain under the pressures of having poor menstrual provisions in place. A report titled Spot On by the NGO Dasra declared that school-aged girls missed multiple days of schools or dropped out completely for lack of facilities and products. Fortunately, in Tamil Nadu, UNICEF created affordable incinerators at local schools. The specialized firewood allows for properly discarding of sanitary products. Bathrooms stack with sanitary products as well.
At Jatan Sansthan, an organization on the southern region of India mobilizes and encourages women and men in the efforts to destigmatize any long-held beliefs about menstruation. Additionally, the organization encourages women to produce affordable and re-useable sanitary products. At Sukhibhava, a local social enterprise continues to educate women on basic business economic principles in slum villages. Women entrepreneurs buy and sell to other entrepreneurs. The business to business endeavor has served a population of 80,000. Women are gaining confidence from the skills they learn and the difference they make in other women’s lives. The organization has educated over 12,000 women to date. The move forward lands India at 130 out of 155 countries on the Gender Inequality Index.
Progress continues today as May 28th is Menstrual Hygiene Day and people celebrate it globally. Reema Kumari and others continue to make positive impacts on women’s health and hygiene in India by promoting and protecting the dignity of adolescent girls and women. The progress has been slow, but nonetheless, India has proven that it can and will continue to close the gap.
– Michelle White