India, a sub-continent with over 1,380,209,695 people as per July 6, 2020, has only 57.6% of women using sanitary napkins during their menses. (Source) This percentage was a result of combined efforts of the government pushing different programs for menstrual hygiene and NGOs working to educate people about the ill-effects of not incorporating hygienic practices.
If this percentage wasn’t already a red flag about the rest of 42.4% of the women across the country using cloth, cotton, leaves, ash, or hay, the recent Corona lockdown created harsh circumstances for menstruating women. State-run schools distributing sanitary napkins to the girls and promoting menstrual hygiene are non-functional since March 2020, resulting in a shortage of pads amongst less fortunate families in rural and urban areas. For many such schools, this distribution was done once in 3 months, giving ample supply for the next quarter, and the last distribution took place in December 2019. Telangana alone has over 5,00,000 girls deprived of the sanitary napkin supply due to the closure of schools in the lockdown. (Source)
Then comes the plight of migrant workers, who have to walk all the way from one state to another to reach their hometown. Many of them were women workers, who not only had to deal with the issue of food and water shortage during the excruciating hot weather conditions but to walk hundreds of kilometres on foot while menstruating and lack of any said napkins. Further, as menstruation is still a mammoth-sized taboo in India, they could not share this with anyone or ask for help either. End result: they had to use old and dirty rags, cotton, hay, or ash to control the bleeding, resulting in urinary tract infections. (Source) Additionally, they had to change these makeshift pads and clean themselves up on roadside bushes, in extremely unhygienic conditions, or even wiping hands with rags as no water available to rinse.
While sanitary napkins were not considered to be an essential item, their production stopped during the Covid-19 crisis, breaking the supply chain of pads across the country. Further, the lockdown cracked many small firms producing low-cost napkins, adding to the shortage. The government later on added these to the essentials list, but the supply is still miles away from reaching the optimum level.
Many groups and people on their personal level took the initiative of ration distribution to people across the nation, but most of them missed to add sanitary pads for women in this supply. As a ray of hope, several NGOs started the distribution of sanitary napkins to women, so that they would not have to suffer from different dreadful diseases linked with menstrual hygiene. Initiatives like Project Baala took a humongous leap y distributing over 20,000 reusable sanitary napkins across the country. These pads can be reused for two years, providing hygienic solutions and protecting the environment at the same time. (Source)
Addressing the elephant in the room, it is high time that we, on our personal level, step up to end this taboo of menstruation in the country. With more and more awareness that we spread, we need to address both the genders so that we make them comfortable and accept menstruation as a naturally occurring healthy phenomenon, instead of some shameful and impure occurrence that makes women untouchable for the time being. Further, we need to take the initiative of making sure that women coming from less fortunate families have access to sanitary napkins, while the state-run schools come back in action after the pandemic is taken care of. On a personal level, we can personally distribute napkins, or reach out to the nearest NGO to help them start or grow the campaign for the same. With a small personal contribution, we will be saving countless lives on a country-wide level. So, I request, start today.