Menstruation & Lifestyle: Trends Changing the Lives of Indian Women

Women deal with menstruation through the prime of their lives. It is as natural a thing as breathing and sleeping, yet there is major social stigma attached to menstruation in many parts of the world.

In spite of this, we have made some progress from the appalling conditions that menstruating women had to face. Customs like spending their cycle in dark corners of the house, not being able to touch anybody or anything at home, sleeping on a floor are going out of favour.

The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 pegs the number for women using hygienic means of managing menstruation in India at 78% in urban areas, 48% in rural areas and 58% overall. Today, nearly six out of ten women in India have access to disposable sanitary napkins. There were many factors responsible for this trend.

 

Lifestyle trends brought by education

Advances in education has relieved girls from traditional and false ideas about menstruation. They have begun to understand the need of maintaining menstrual hygiene. If not a social dialogue, education has at least opened a small window of opportunity of to distribute scientific information about periods to teen girls. This paved a way for new lifestyle trend which has slowly, bit by bit, facilitated the use of sanitary pads in India.

Lifestyle trends brought by financial upscaling:

As we all know, the new employment opportunities created in the 1990s pushed the lower income class to the middle income bracket. People then had higher disposable incomes after basic needs were met. They could now spend it on items which would give them some semblance of a  lifestyle. Lifestyle changes in the lives of urban and semi urban middle class women did come about, and in their very private and interior choices, many women opted for new brands of disposable sanitary pads instead of homemade cloth pads.

Lifestyle trends brought by globalisation:

The immense change that Indian economy went through in 1990s affected lives acrosss classes and genders. The structural adjustment program popularly known as LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation) opened the Indian market to foreign sanitary pads manufacturers. The FMCG market took a leap. The idea of western ways of life went on trend. Sanitary pad sales in India rose like stars. Millions of Indian women completely incorporated the monthly use of store-bought sanitary pads in their lifestyle.

Marketing induced lifestyle trends:
Sanitary pad manufacturers understood that the bulk of the Indian populace resides in villages. Ergo, they stepped their marketing strategies up to include women from rural areas, most of whom still swore by makeshift sanitary napkins. Marketing campaigns began to focus on rural teen girls who would welcome the lifestyle change willingly and easily. Affordable sanitary pad advertisements started appearing frequently on prime time television.

Lifestyle trends induced by changing social structure:

The women in India have gone out into the world and made it big. Their lives revolve as much around their work and personal passions as around their families. Often, they find themselves in situations where a protective sanitary pad of good quality is needed to prevent leaks, offer some anti-infective safeguard, and feel comfortable against the intimate area. Well-designed sanitary pads are the need of the day. This need is being met, and it is rising still.

Unavailability of sanitary pads not only affects women’s health but their entire lifestyle

Approximately 355 million Indian women and girls find it difficult to cope with monthly menstrual hygiene because of not having access toilets or having rudimentary and unclean lavatory facilities.They usually wait until nighttime before using public toilets or fields which often exposes them to physical attacks.

Most of these rural women in India also make use of old strips of cloth and rags for feminine hygiene. These materials expose them to reproductive or urinary tract infections since it is difficult for them to keep their used clothes clean, dry and free of harmful bacteria and fungi. Washing reusable feminine products with soap and drying them in the sunlight may be difficult due to lack of water, private facilities, and sociocultural taboos associated with menstruation.

Under such conditions, when a girl starts menstruating and does without adequate supplies, she misses crucial learning days at school, often a week per month. Education takes back seat naturally. This results in doing poorly on exams and dropping out of school, later in forced marriage, sometimes lives of prostitution.

The ministry of health and family welfare in India has been running free sanitary pad programmes known as ‘free days’ in rural areas where a girl student receives a pack of sanitary pads on a regular basis since 2013. However such government programmes often collapse due to lack of funds and mismanagement and inefficiency of government officials. There have been complaints that the quality of these sanitary pads is low and only five to six pads are available to every girl per month.

Modern lifestyle trends may disrupt environmental balance

Although it is a good thing that lifestyle trend to use sanitary pad is giving women more freedom, it is not very environment friendly. It would be imprudent to ignore this fact while trying to improve lifestyle of women.

The average woman also is estimated to use and discard 125-150 kg pads in her lifetime. This amounts to 433 million such products per month to be discarded in India, experts estimate. Most of these products end up in landfills or sewage systems because waste pickers are reluctant to separate the soiled sanitary pads by hand and prepare them for burning as is required under the government’s solid waste management rules.

Can there be sustainable solution to this problem?

Yes, there are researchers and NGOs who have tried finding sustainable solutions for this pressing problem. Women should have access to menstrual hygiene without feeling guilty of environmental degradation. Auroville-based eco-femme, ArunachalamMuruganantham’sJayashree industries, SacchiSaheli, Aakar innovations etc are manufacturing biodegradable sanitary pads in India. Yet, the growth of this environmentally sustainable lifestyle trend is being hindered for lack of funds.

Project Mukti sets an example

Project Mukti is an income generation-based health project of New Light NGO led by UrmiBasu.

In partnership with Village Volunteers and with technical support from Aakaar Innovations, the Mukti pad company provides an income to women from a red light district in Calcutta. Sanitary pads produced by them are provided to vulnerable girls to enable them to stay in school through a sponsorship program.

How crowdfunding in India helped Project Mukti to carry on their remarkable work

This significant project faced a setback due to lack of finances. They needed to expand their program by establishing a bicycle sales force. This program aimed at providing bicycles to 15 women and train them in business and marketing, to show them a way out of life in the red light neighborhood.

Project Mukti collaborated with the internationally well known Village Volunteers for raising funds to leverage their networking capabilities. Village Volunteers started a fundraiser on Impact Guru, India’s leading crowdfunding platform to raise funds effectively through fundraising  in India.

Project Muktiraised Rs. 8,55,104 in just 99 days. Their fundraiser received donations from 373 people, from India and abroad taking advantage of tax benefit given by Impact Guru to donors from US and UK.

Project Mukti is has become a lifestyle trend setter in the menstrual health discourse. These biodegradable sanitary pads from Mukti are not only eco-friendly but giving many mothers employed in sex work the opportunity to save their daughters from horrific life of red light areas.

Empowering women and ensuring environmental sustainability are the two millennium development goals, UN nations members agreed upon. India which has always been keen on honouring her commitments, should not waste this opportunity. You too can play apart in this.  Let’s create a better India, where women can live a dignified life free from old stigma and discrimination. Do your bit to make a difference. Choose your cause. To make a difference, Donate today.

  • Dongha is a freelance writer, editor and content developer. Giving the needed information to people in all areas. Contact me if you need help.