Period Poverty in India | Understanding the Issue & Solutions

Team ujaas

Period Poverty : The Present State of Menstrual Hygiene in India

According to a UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Education Fund) study that was conducted in the year 2011:

  • Only 13% of Indian girls are aware of menstruation prior to their menarche.
  • 60% of girls missed school because of menstruation.
  • 79% faced low levels of confidence because of menstruation, and 44% felt humiliated and embarrassed over the restrictions.

This data is enough to explain that menstruation adversely impacts a woman’s education, equality, as well as maternal and child health.

Period Poverty & The Plight of Indian Women

The average Indian woman needs to spend around Rs 300 every month for period products. In a country like India, where the minimum daily wage rate is around Rs 180, you can easily see how women can be eventually priced out of these products completely. Moreover, it is a monthly commitment, which just cannot be wished away. This explains why 43 million women still cannot afford to bleed.

Ujaas, a menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative of Aditya Birla Education Trust was founded to eventually put an end to period poverty in India.

Period Poverty - What is it?

Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products, hygienic sanitation, and period education among women. It is one of the most critical issues faced by women in India.

It is essentially a struggle that several menstruators face while trying to purchase affordable menstrual products due to poor hygiene standards, economic vulnerability, and lack of awareness. 

A vast majority of women in rural India still depend on unsafe materials such as rags, sand, hay, and ash as alternatives to safer, costlier menstrual products. This eventually exposes them to urinary tract infections (UTIs), a wide array of other infections, bleeding, rashes, and other skin problems.

What are the Primary Causes of Period Poverty in India?

Be it the exorbitant prices of sanitary products, a lack of awareness regarding their usage, or the normalisation of silence around menses and its cultural ignorance as a “woman’s problem” – these are the primary reasons that have further worsened period poverty in India. The fundamental problem of period poverty is threefold: lack of awareness, access, and acceptance.

  • Menstrual taboo and Stigma -

    One of the foremost and most important causes of period poverty is the stigmas, taboos, and stereotypes surrounding menstruation. Each conversation around periods is a hushed one, and the eventual silence around the issue has been normalised to such an extent that women are shamed if they opt for alternatives. This eventually worsens existing problems.

  • Menstrua hygiene -

    The second and extremely vital cause is the abysmally poor standards of hygiene in the country. For several in rural India, period hygiene is nonexistent. The scarcity of clean water, lack of period products, and no access to toilets make things difficult. This lack of proper sanitation facilities is shocking, to say the least, and worsens the problem, especially for young menstruators.
  • Poor period awareness -

    The next point is about the lack of period awareness and knowledge. According to the findings of a study, 71% of girls report having no knowledge about periods before their menarche. This lack of preparedness leads to shock, frustration, anxiety, and fear, which all combine to lead to school dropouts.

Ujaas, the menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative, aims to promote period awareness by conducting workshops for girls and women in rural India.

How to End Period Poverty?

  • Normalise the topic of menstruation and eliminate the taboos that surround this natural, biological phenomenon. After this, policy needs to be enforced to make period products, hygiene, and sanitation easily accessible. Advocates and activists are making demands that the Government of India must prioritise menstrual equity policy.
  • Urge local as well as national governments to successfully build programs that take a comprehensive approach as well as address all issues around menstruation: awareness, effects of poor menstrual hygiene, and production as well as distribution of menstrual products.
  • Purchase menstruation products from brands that aim to end period poverty. Simultaneously, donate to charitable organisations and NGOs that fight hard to end this form of poverty. To go a step further, start purchasing completely sustainable and biodegradable menstrual health and hygiene products. 
  • Begin with an initiative in your community to successfully tackle the effects of poor menstrual hygiene. You may also host theater performances as well as workshops in rural communities to increase awareness about periods creatively. Alternatively, you may distribute menstrual hygiene kits to distant, rural communities as well as schools that lack these commodities.
  • Sign petitions like Men in Menstruation by Ujaas, organize events, participate in marches, and get highly involved in your community when it comes to menstrual advocacy.
  • Sustainable menstruation activists have pointed towards menstrual cups as well as reusable cloth pads as viable alternatives. According to some, period poverty in India is largely “manufactured” poverty. Women are being taught that disposable products are the sole option. While disposable menstrual products need a consistent expenditure, reusables need a much larger initial investment but prove to be much more cost-friendly in the long run.
  • To end period poverty, schemes as well as plans need to be highly inclusive. While the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme successfully outlines the distribution of sanitary pads and imparting menstrual education to adolescent girls, there is little-to-no mention of older women and their diverse needs in policy as well as research.

Lastly, education is the most powerful way to end period poverty. That said, this education is not your typical classroom education, where the fundamental basis is theoretical knowledge. Education, to be fruitful, must discuss menstrual health and hygiene (or MHH) practices as well as interdisciplinary areas such as sex education, family planning, and safe usage of contraceptives.

The Bottomline

When it comes to conversations around period poverty, it is also crucial to acknowledge that not all menstruators are women and that not all women menstruate. There is a fundamental need to engage in conversations that are far beyond the gender binary while considering all aspects as well as the needs of menstruators. There is also a need to create a movement that is devoid of exclusions of any vulnerable section. There must be a real and measurable change by governments, paving the way for collaborative efforts to eliminate the stigma and make menstrual products and resources easily available.