Positive Impact on Women’s Health in India
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 Facts

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
Photo: Flickr

Women's Health in IndiaOn Feb. 9, 2018, the Bollywood movie “Padman” was released to the largest film market in the world. “Padman” is exactly what it sounds like: a film about a man who creates pads. The Bollywood film chronicles the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, India’s pioneer of a revolutionary method of producing cost-effective sanitary pads for women and girls across the country.

The film is more than just a story about someone with a good idea; it is also challenging the stigma that surrounds menstruation and women’s health in India. “Period Poverty” is a global phenomenon that describes a woman’s inability to buy proper feminine hygiene products. In India in particular, the effects of period poverty hinder many girls’ abilities to stay in school. In India, one in four girls miss one day or more of school due to menstruation.

In lower and middle income countries, poor sanitation facilities are one thing that keep girls from attending school while on their period. Many schools in lower income countries also do not have the puberty education necessary to educate girls about menstruation. A recent study found that 71 percent of girls in India have no knowledge about menstruation prior to their first period.

Most cultures around the world also have a major stigma surrounding menstruation. In India in particular, a lot of taboo surrounds the topic of periods and women’s health in general. Restrictions for women on their period include not being able to enter religious shrines or come into contact with food, further keeping girls from school. Many girls are nervous about asking for help in the event of stained clothing due to improper feminine hygiene care.

Another thing keeping women from proper feminine hygiene care is cost. Until recently, 70 percent of Indian women could not afford to buy pads for their family. Instead, families resorted to using and reusing rags which quickly become unsanitary as breeding grounds for disease. In rural areas, materials other than rags were often used like sawdust or ash.

There are currently many NGOs operating around the world with the goal of creating affordable solutions for women suffering from period poverty. Many of these organizations are dedicated to solving issues of women’s health in India.

Innovator Arunachalam Muruganantham has created a machine that makes sanitary pads that are sold mostly to NGOs along with women’s self-help groups. The machine comes in two different types, a manual version and a semi-automated version. Each machine can make 200 to 250 pads a day and is designed to be user-friendly for women living in rural areas.

The pads sell for about 2.5 rupees, almost half of what it would be to buy them commercially. This system not only provides proper sanitary products for women, but also creates jobs for women living in rural areas as they learn how to use and operate the machine. Muruganatham has expanded his efforts well beyond India and is now working in 106 countries around the world.

An organization created in 2008 called Days for Girls is dedicated to improving women’s health around the world. The organization aims to provide girls with invaluable health education and provide its recipients with a Days for Girls kit. Each kit contains sanitary napkins, washcloths, soap, a menstrual chart and underwear. This is just one example of the many organizations fighting to end the stigma surrounding periods.

India is the largest film market in the world, with 2.2 billion movie tickets sold in 2016. Hopefully, the recent film, “Padman,” will reach a wide variety of audiences and bring more attention to issue of women’s health in India.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr