Maharashtra’s Padwoman: A woman officer determined to make sanitary napkins easily available at PDS shops

She says only 12% of women in India and 66% of them mostly in urban areas of Maharashtra use hygienic sanitary pads. In rural areas, only 17% women use sanitary napkins. 
Vandana Georaikar with othet women
Vandana Georaikar with othet women

MAHARASHTRA: Vandana Georaikar, deputy collector at the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) of the Maharashtra government, is very particular about cleanliness; and physical hygiene, especially among rural women. Wherever she goes, her mind revolves around women who know little about sanitary napkins, but whose acceptance is something essentially linked to the woman’s overall health.

Georaikar says her department is making efforts to make slum dwellers owners of pakka houses via various redevelopment projects. The clean surroundings must also ensure women living there know the importance of sanitary pads and keep off the stigma associated with the menstrual cycle.

“Mainstreaming the menstruating women isn’t easy due to social beliefs. But that’s shocking for a nation that has landed on the Moon, a country sworn to nurture scientific temperament. In India, annually 12 crore women face health issues during periods. This is a global problem, so we need to have a holistic approach to resolve it,” she said.

She says only 12% of women in India and 66% of them mostly in urban areas of Maharashtra use hygienic sanitary pads. In rural areas, only 17% of women use sanitary napkins. Poverty and the lack of awareness are prominent reasons.

“In India, each year 60,000 women succumb to uterine cancer, out of that, 75% deaths happen due to lack of awareness about menstrual cycle and use of unhygienic stuff and carelessness,” Georaikar pointed out.
She said when she put this data across her peers, friends and relatives, they were shocked. “We also carried out surveys in slum areas to check the health of women during menstrual cycle and other precautions. It was revealed that most women still use discarded pieces of cloth during their period,” said Georaikar. “The surveys also told us that if they get sanitary pads easily, then they are ready to use them. So, I felt a little relieved,” she said.

Georaikar said many NGOs and close friends who are in business extended help to distribute the sanitary pads in designated areas. “But this is a temporary solution; I want women to get sanitary pads on a regular basis and that too with ease. So, we thought a government policy on the use of sanitary pads could be a permanent solution. I tossed this idea around with my seniors and also the ministers of various departments. They were keen to make policy decisions,” she said.

She met Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Hasan Mushriff (when he was the rural development minister during Maha Vikas Aghadi government) and gave them presentations on the menstrual cycle and associated solutions. “We discussed how sanitary pads could reach rural households. We revisited the government-aided public distribution system (PDS) shops that sell subsidised food grains and other stuff. Generally, women go out to these PDS shops. So, we thought if sanitary pads are kept there, they would be easily available,” said Georaikar. 

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