New Delhi: From sanitary napkin vending machines being installed in educational institutes, railway stations and airports of India to making sanitary pads more affordable for women by exempting the 12 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST), 2018 saw menstrual hygiene being discussed in the public domain. Not just that, this year also saw the trend of ‘Pink Toilets’, loos that are more women-friendly and have amenities such as sanitary napkin vending machine, incinerators, breastfeeding table and then there are PadBanks that provide poor women with sanitary napkins at free of cost or at a very low price.
Here are some of the highlights of the year 2018 and the steps initiated for menstrual hygiene in India:
Sanitary Napkins Gets Exemption From Goods And Services Tax
After the 28th GST Council meet this year, the interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal announced the GST exemption from sanitary napkins that were previously in the 12 per cent tax bracket under the GST regime. The exemption was the result of serious criticism the move faced earlier from various quarters which raised pointed questions like, ‘Why bindi, sindoor and kajal are exempted from the GST and not sanitary napkins.’
The tax exemption is expected to make sanitary pads more affordable for women and help improve their health and well-being.
Women-Friendly Toilets Being Constructed With Basic Menstrual Hygiene Amenities
The year 2018 also saw the construction of many Pink Toilets or women-friendly toilets across India with an aim to provide basic menstrual hygiene to more and more women of the country. While the national capital region got its first Pink Toilet in the year 2017 in Vikaspuri area, this year, saw the construction of many more. New Delhi Municipal Corporation constructed three pink toilets in Central Delhi – Parliament Street (Sansad Marg) Outer Circle, Connaught Place – near Super Bazaar and one in South Delhi’s Factory Road – near Safdarjang Hospital. In South Delhi, 14 public toilets in the market areas started providing sanitary pads from vending machines.
Not just New Delhi, in Uttar Pradesh’s Kaushambi district, pink toilets are being constructed in all the police stations of the district. The idea of installing pink toilets in all the police stations came after district’s first and only pink toilet found acceptance among the villagers a few months ago.
On the other hand, in Lucknow, one pink toilet has been set, the plan is to build around 40 such toilets in the city by the next financial year.
Along with Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka too has taken steps towards menstrual hygiene management. Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has sent circulars to state authorities to set up pink toilets across the state on priority.
The pink toilets that have gained popularity in 2018 are basically women-friendly toilets that provide menstrual hygiene facilities to the women with amenities like sanitary pad vending machines, incinerators for effective waste management of sanitary pads.
Educational Institutes Welcome The Move To Set Up Sanitary Vending Machines
According to a 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled Spot On!, nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include the availability of sanitary napkins and logical awareness of menstruation. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has also written to Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar to consider the installation of sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators within the premises of schools and universities across the country to curtail this drop out rate due to non-availability of hygienic sanitary products and facilities in educational institutions.
Meanwhile, few steps have been taken this year to provide better menstrual hygiene facilities in colleges and schools:
In Mumbai, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation has helped installed 40 sanitary napkin dispensing machines across schools that provide sanitary napkins at just Rs.2. In the next round, NMMC also plans to install incinerators in schools so that used sanitary napkins can be disposed of safely as irresponsible disposal of used sanitary napkins is a health hazard and can spread diseases.
Himachal Pradesh government has announced the installation of sanitary napkin vending machines in all schools, colleges, hostels and places which girls or women visit often in the state by next year.
Karnataka government also has passed circular inviting companies to help set up sanitary napkin vending machines along with incinerators in all the educational institutes as a part of their corporate social responsibility.
In New Delhi, 56 colleges of Delhi University have already got the sanitary napkin vending machines, the goal is to cover all the DU colleges on priority.
Travel Made Easy For Women With Menstrual Hygiene Facilities In Railway Stations And Airports
To provide basic menstrual hygiene facilities to women, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal announced railways plan to set up manufacturing units for low-cost and bio-degradable sanitary napkins at 8,000 railway stations of the country that will help provide low-cost sanitary pads.
Some of the railway stations have already started setting up the facilities on their own. Bhopal Junction railway station started the year 2018 by installing two sanitary napkin vending machines that provide pads at Rs 5. It also was the first railway station to have the sanitary napkin vending machine.
Western Railway (WR) in the same month installed sanitary napkin dispenser and incinerators in its six divisions – Churchgate, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Ratlam, Rajkot and Bhavnagar, for its women employees.
During International Women’s Day, sanitary pad dispenser was installed in Mumbai-New Delhi Rajdhani. Taking a cue, the Hirakhand Express, running through Naxal-affected tribal areas of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, became the second train after the premium Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express to have a sanitary pad vending machine onboard.
Joining the league to provide better menstrual hygiene to women, Kacheguda Station in Hyderabad too installed a sanitary napkin vending machine.
From Railways To Airports
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) also decided to put up sanitary napkin vending machines at airports across the country. Currently, airports in Indore, Kolkata, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar, Port Blair, Trivandrum, Vishakhapatnam, Vadodara, Pune, Guwahati, Varanasi, Surat, Chandigarh and Kolkata have sanitary pad vending machine for women travellers.
Usually, these vending machines have the capacity to stock upto 75 sanitary pads. To make use of the sanitary napkin vending machine service, women travellers have to simply insert a coin of Rs 1 or Rs 5 as the price varies in all the airports.
Campaigns That Initiated Discussion On Menstruation In India
Maharashtra launched a state-wide Asmita Yojana scheme in order to provide rural women sanitary napkins at a discounted price. The scheme is providing eight sanitary napkins at a cost of Rs. 5 only and is being implemented by the Rural Development Department under the Maharashtra State Rural Jivonnati Campaign with the Additional Director of Family Welfare Department functioning as the Nodal Officer. The Maharashtra government has allotted Rs. 3 crore for the scheme that aims to cover girls in 36 districts of the state.
Haryana has decided to provide sanitary napkins to students at a cost of Rs 1. The Haryana government in 2017 also took a step to make Menstrual Hygiene a priority in the state, wherein the Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar decided to distribute free sanitary napkins in all the schools of the state. For the same, the government also allotted Rs. 18 crore.
Along with Maharashtra and Haryana, Rajasthan too has taken a lead in promoting menstrual Hygiene. The state government announced the launch of a new scheme across the state’s rural areas that will help provide free sanitary napkins to girls and women. The Rajasthan government has allocated an amount of Rs. 76 crore for the scheme.
Assam government as walked an extra mile in order to promote menstrual hygiene in the state. The government is providing a monthly stipend of Rs 600 to girls between 12 to 20 years of age whose family’s annual income is less than Rs. 5 lakh, to motivate them to purchase hygienic sanitary products.
On the other hand, Uttarakhand is promoting menstrual hygiene by providing low-cost sanitary napkins to women, especially in rural areas. In 2018, the scheme got kick-started in four of its districts, namely Dehradun, Pauri, Pithoragarh and Almora, wherein the sanitary napkin pads available at Anganwadi centres were sold at Rs. 15 for 8 pads. The uniqueness of the scheme is that the government is providing an incentive of Rs 2 a month to the anganwadi workers who are motivating other women to use the sanitary napkins being provided by the government.
Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi launched #YesIBleed campaign with an aim to provide holistic, healthy and eco-friendly society where menstrual hygiene is practised by menstruating women of all ages, even at grassroot level. The campaign under the Ministry addressed issues by providing access to sanitary napkins to women and awareness on menstrual hygiene.
Celebrities Promote The Use Of Sanitary Pads
Along with states taking various steps to promote menstrual hygiene in the country, actors too contributed towards the cause. In January, actor Akshay Kumar, through his movie PadMan did his bit to break the stigma of menstruation. The film is a biopic on a resident of Tamil Nadu Arunachalam Muruganantham who developed low-cost sanitary pad making machine in India and broke the taboo attached with menstruation in his region.
Reel life PadMan Akshay Kumar also launched various campaigns after his movie – #18to82 with an aim to bridge the gap between sanitary napkin users from 18 per cent to 82 per cent in India and#AbSamjhautaNahin that stressed on the need for making low-cost sanitary napkins in the country so that underprivileged women can also be benefitted. The actor also undertook the task of introducing 60 sanitary napkins vending machine in Maharashtra along with Yuva Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray.
Not just Akshay Kumar, Menstrual Hygiene cause also got support from many in the industry thanks to the #PadManChallenge that was started by social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham to start a conversation about menstruation. From Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma to Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao, to name a few, everyone joined the viral #PadManChallenge to break the silence about menstruation in India.
The PadBank Trend That Helped Provide Sanitary Pads To Many Poor Women
This year, one thing that has given the cause of menstrual hygiene the boost it deserves is the trend of setting up PadBanks. Today, efforts ie being made to reach out to women with no access or awareness about menstrual hygiene through these PadBanks that operate as a bank, but instead of dispensing money, the PadBanks dispense sanitary pads, either for free or at a discounted price.
In India, some of the known PadBanks are – Dr Bharati Lavekar’s digital padbank that accepts donations both in monetary funding and sanitary napkins, which is further used to change the lives of women with no access to basic necessities.
Bihar’s Nav Astitwa Foundation ‘Swachh Betiyan, Swachh Samaj’ PadBank distributes the monthly stock of sanitary napkins at a cost of Rs 20.
Pad sisters’ foundation in Jaipur is providing pads to poor women free of cost. The sisters first collect the stock of sanitary napkins from the women and girls who can afford it and then distribute it to ones who cannot afford pads.
Menstrual Hygiene: Expert Speak
Taking to NDTV about menstrual hygiene in India, Meenakshi Gupta, Co-founder of Goonj, a well-known organisation that works on making clothing a basic right for vulnerable section of the population said,
Earlier the problem in India was unawareness on the topic of menstruation. Today, thankfully the discussion on menstruation has started and that is because of the efforts of the authorities, people and organisations that are coming up with menstrual hygiene schemes, campaigns that are helping the less fortunate women of the society by providing them easy access to sanitary napkins.
Nalini Shekar, a social activist and a founder of Hasiru Dala (Green Force), a non-profit organisation that is helping marginalised waste pickers in Bengaluru, said,
Today, I am happy to see various schemes on menstrual hygiene in India. Authorities have understood the need to provide better menstrual hygiene care, there are toilets being made that is taking care of the facilities, suddenly, there is an explosion of sanitary vending machines that are being set up in airports, railway stations and bus stands. It is a good sign, I just hope, authorities take required actions for menstrual waste management as well so that our waste pickers are not exposed to menstrual waste the way they are exposed currently.
Arundati Muralidharan, Manager-Policy from WaterAid, adds,
One of the most positive aspects we are seeing today that our women are aware of menstruation, still, a lot more needs to be achieved. It is a good sign that we have started launching schemes that are providing as a basic necessity as sanitary napkins at a cheaper rate, but, what we need more is schemes and action plans on how authorities plan to deal with the humongous amount of menstrual waste. Yes, incinerators are a solution and the government has started installing it in different areas, but we need more to deal with the amount of waste that is being generated on a monthly basis.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.