BENGALURU: “I took three years to convince my family that I will use sanitary pads instead of cloth during my menstural cycle. I told them it will be given free and they don’t have to pay. Now, with lockdown and stop of supply of free sanitary napkins to schools I have no option but use cloth,” says Radha (14) from Hitnal village in Koppal district.
Radha is not alone. This is the story of thousands of girl students of classes 6 to 12 studying in government schools across the State.
They are given sanitary napkins every month under the Central Government’s Kishori Shakti Yojna. But with their schools shut for more than three months due to the ongoing lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, the distribution of sanitary napkins too has come to a halt.
Sandhya (13) from Chitradurga district says, “It looks like the government has completely forgotten us and our problems. See corona doesn’t stop our cycle every month. With schools shut, that one pack of sanitary pads is also not reaching us,” says Sandhya.
According to some NGOs who have worked in these villages to create awareness on using sanitary napkins, the high price has long been a concern for the poor.
Speaking to TNIE, the girls, some of them still shy to talk about the issue, said, “There is a door-to-door distribution of masks happening in my locality but not sanitary napkins. Why is it so? Isn’t this also an essential? Who should we ask? We have exams next month and if we get our periods, the cloth pads will make us uncomfortable.”
Meanwhile, ASHA health workers and NGOs and others who have spent years in convincing people of these areas to ensure menstrual hygiene are worried about them going back to cloth pieces and risk of infections around it.
“It’s ok to use cloth but many don’t know how to clean it and also the stigma attached to cleaning and drying it is still prevalent in many households in my village. Many children had convinced their mothers to switch to pads. The government should start distribution of these pads,” said an ASHA worker from Pandavapura.
Meanwhile, Tanya Mahajan, coordinator, Menstrual Health Alliance India, a network of NGOs, manufacturers and other experts that works to create awareness about menstrual health, says, “In our recent survey with NGO partners, 84% stated that there is either no or severely restricted access to menstrual products in communities that they work in, especially for sanitary pads.”
She explained that around 61% were distributing menstrual products through schools, 28% through door-to-door retail, 26% through online retail channels and 22% through traditional retail stores (FMCG and pharmacists).
With the outbreak of the pandemic and with physical distancing measures, 67% organisations have had to pause normal operations. When TNIE spoke to Shashikala Jolle, Minister for Women and Child Welfare, she admitted that she has also heard about the situation.
“It’s a matter concerning the health and education departments. I have received complaints about it too. I will raise the issue in the cabinet and sort it out.”