A Sanitary Napkins: Necessity or luxury?
21 Jul 2021
The discussion of menstruation remains taboo in most parts of the country, especially in rural
areas. It is no surprise that girls in rural areas face many issues surrounding menstrual
hygiene. This could be seen in the movie Padman as the protagonist highlights the plight of
women regarding the inaccessibility of menstrual hygiene products. Women often use
unhygienic alternatives to tampons or sanitary pads. These include newspapers, cloth, cow
dung, and cloth. Because of this, women not only face health issues but also miss out on work
and school. Most women in the Asia-Pacific region and Sub-Saharan Africa do not use
menstrual hygiene products adequately. This lack of use of sanitary hygiene products leads to
reduced participation in employment and education which lowers their self-esteem. About 23
percent of girls in India drop out of school once they hit their menarche. Many are estimated
to miss out on about 50 school days in a year.
Many people consider sanitary napkins a luxury. There are multiple sanitary hygiene
products like tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, etc. These are unavoidable costs as
women have to pay for them every month. These products are also subjected to taxes. The
problem of accessibility to sanitary pads was aggravated during the pandemic. This is
because many girls rely on their schools for providing them with sanitary pads because of
their exuberant costs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, only 15 % of such female students
could afford sanitary napkins. Many couldn't pay for a pack of 30 Rs that had only 7 sanitary
pads. They had to resort to using cloth which seemed a cheaper alternative for them. This
inaccessibility of sanitary pads due to high costs leads to the use of unhygienic options. These
increase the risks of contracting urinary tract infections and reproductive health problems like
infertility or fatal shock syndrome. There is a 70% increase every year in the number of cases
of reproductive tract infections as a result of poor menstrual hygiene. Also, in many rural
parts of the country, women lack knowledge about alternatives to sanitary pads or even about
sanitary pads at all. International companies dominate the market for sanitary pads in India.
Companies like Johnson and Johnson’s Stayfree and Procter and Gamble’s Whisper occupy a
retail market share of 24% and 50.4% respectively. But, these companies claim to produce
menstrual products that are in the mid to low-level pricing range. This is done to make these
products affordable. But, the per capita consumption of these products in India is around 4
units against 72 units in Western Europe and 69 units in North America.
Women in India have mainly used clothes or disposables sanitary pads. The government has
been campaigning for many years to encourage women to transition into using sanitary pads.
But, little effort has been put in to create awareness about other cheaper and sustainable
menstrual hygiene products like reusable pads and menstrual cups. But, several organizations
have been working towards selling low-cost menstrual hygiene products, These could act as
cheaper alternatives to sanitary pads produced by the branded companies. Most women
choose pads based on the design, packaging, and reputation of the company producing them.
This restricts information about cheaper alternatives which are essential for rural women.
The Suvidha brand is a government scheme that aims to sell affordable and biodegradable
sanitary pads to women. Suvidha pads can be purchased from Janaushadhi Kendras stores.
The price of these pads was subsidized to 1 Rs in 2019. Another low-cost alternative is the
“Sakhi” pads produced by a social entrepreneur Jayshree Parwar. These napkins were
produced at Jayshree’s house. These are made from non-woven paper, pinewood paper,
butter paper, silicon paper, and cotton. These are not only affordable but also cost-effective.
They get decomposed after being in the mud for eight days. They are also irradiated with UV
light which kills the germs associated with the products during their production. The
production of these napkins also employs the support of women themselves. Around 1,000
women from rural areas are operating the units for the production of these pads. Each unit
produces 1,200 napkins every day. But, they are cheap and priced around Rs 2.50 per pad.
These initiatives not only provide cheaper pads but also promote women empowerment. The
utilization of bamboo allows the farmers to sell the bamboo fibers to the initiative rather than
throwing them away and earn money at the same time.
Apart from cheaper alternatives to sanitary pads, there is a need to create awareness about
menstrual hygiene. Since the sanitary napkin industry is dominated by expensive but popular
products, cheaper alternatives need to be popularised. There is a need to create a safe space
for the discussion of menstrual hygiene where women can openly discuss the financial and
social problems related to menstrual hygiene products.