Disclaimer: Views expressed here are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent that of the Organization

I am an enthused Instagram user. One day I see an advertisement reading, “Biodegradable, customisable (different size for different days), toxin-free sanitary pads” in my feed. Normal sanitary napkins fail to cut me some slack and by the end of the third day of my menstrual cycle, I am writhing with itchiness around the genitals. Naturally, I check the appealing advertisement of toxin-free pads. Twelve pads for INR 399. I calculate roughly and I know that a single pad costs INR 33. Another similar start-up has been manufacturing pads from bamboo and corn and claim to be, “chlorine-free, paraben-free and toxin-free.” A pack of ten pads costs INR 249. This means a single pad costs around 25. I can go on and mention a few more start-ups with the great and honest intention of selling the females of this country the best quality sanitary napkins, but I don’t want this article to be a litany about how these startups are obliging the urban class and the elites, or maybe, even the middle class. Posts with messages of “healthy periods, happy periods,” “switch to tampons and menstrual cups” and more are ubiquitous on social media, accessible to and coherent for the well-educated and the literate female population only. At the risk of being discursive, I will now drive the point home: the poor make up about 80 million of our population which is almost two-thirds of our population. Let’s not talk solely numbers here. How are the advertisements streaming on social media catering to the poverty-stricken populace of our country? Why are the ‘sustainable’ and ‘high quality’ sanitary amenities only affordable by the urban classes, or in very tiny proportion, by the middle class? Almost every city-dwelling girl and woman is well informed in today’s time regarding good sanitary hygiene practices and products. But, are the poor even aware of the concept of sanitary hygiene? How are these urban advertisements helpful for the un-read and the poor?

Affordability and the ease of access to sanitary amenities, as issues to be mitigated, only came into light during the pandemic. Just when labourers were travelling across the country barefoot to get to their respective homes, we came to think of young girls and their survival through days of menstruation during this period.

Just as education for HIV/AIDS seemed impossible to be imparted in the villages and in the deep-set districts of India, there were some government organisations arranging for groups of workers to spread awareness from village to village. Folk arts programmes in villages were held to step up HIV/AIDS awareness. An effort was made to educate the poor. Sex education is accessible to teenagers living in the cities (a lot of schools in cities are still shying away from sex education, but the ones including sex education in their curriculum deserve applause). Don’t teenagers from the villages harbour similar needs and deserve to be educated on sexual health? Shouldn’t the fine sanitary amenities of big cities be accessible to girls and women living in the villages? They are facing a totally different sort of pandemic along with COVID.

This is where an entrepreneurial mind should start churning its cogwheels of imagination. Good leadership is the need of the hour. What steps should have been taken in the past decade or more so that females from rural areas would not have had to face the crisis today, during this pandemic?

Let’s talk then about the simpler times, before March 2020. I will describe a hypothetical programme by an organisation where it targets ten villages for imparting education to females on menstruation and on reproductive health. An active leader ‘X’ of the organisation trains five members of the organisation. These five members choose a village each. Five elderly women or men from a village each are trained and taught by the volunteers from the organisation. These village elderly in turn will spread knowledge further in their respective areas with funding procured by the organisation and during the volunteers’ presence. Once this set of five villages has been covered, the next five villages can be targeted by the volunteers. The pattern would look something like this:

Flowchart depicting how a leader in a certain organisation can achieve her/his goal of educating the rural population about menstrual and reproductive health.

Along with strong leadership, good entrepreneurship is required. The Government of India is willing to fund any project in the current time period, that defines a significant goal and which should have a definite impact on society. There was one point of time when a debate erupted on whether condoms should be sold free of cost! What about sanitary napkins for the poor? Sanitary napkins should be universally accessible; it’s a basic right to female hygiene! Using a condom and having sex is a choice! Basic right versus choice: which of the two holds more gravitas? Why not ensure the proper supply of sanitary napkins for rural females at the cheapest rates possible? Maybe even sell it free of cost up to a certain time period?

Just as the idea of leadership and education mentioned above seems doable under normal circumstances, it is as doable during the pandemic. Written permission from the collector or any higher authority would give us a pass to visit nearby villages for a good cause.

To underscore the purpose of writing this article, I would put it crisply: good leadership and a definite chalked-out plan that would ensure menstrual education and hygiene in rural areas is a very strong weapon against ignorance. Entrepreneurship that would subsume the village populace among its other target consumers would be laudable during these tough times.

For all those who menstruate, access to basic sanitary necessities is a basic right. One should not be deprived of good hygienic conditions. Something that everybody can avail of must be the aim of any entrepreneurial programme.

Disclaimer: Views expressed here are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent that of the Organization

Author: Tanaya Naik

Tanaya is from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh and works as a lecturer in Mata Gujri Women’s College, Jabalpur. A bookworm, she also enjoys doodling, painting, outdoor sports, yoga and cooking. She says that the “Periods in Pandemic” writing contest helped to express her opinion on issues of menstrual health and society.

Edited by: Divya Rosaline