INDIAN CONSTITUTION AND MENSTRUAL HEALTH
Afford Sanitary Napkin at Re. 1. Our Country guarantees ‘Right to Health‘ under Article 47 of the Constitution. While it initially was under the Directive Principles of State Policy, the right is now officially made a fundamental right under Article 21, thanks to the phenomenal decisions of our Top Court. However, the Government is often blindsided to consider the inclusion of menstrual health within this category. Menstrual hygiene is scarcely recognized as a separate health parameter in our country. Health consequences due to the same is on the rise. From the basic skin irritation to the dreadful cancer, unhygienic menstruation can lead to a wide range of problems[i].
There are many ways through which the government can strive to ensuring menstrual health, however, one of the most important steps towards the same is the availability of safe and affordable sanitary napkins without discrimination. A study conducted in 2008[ii] revealed that between 45% to 90% of girls and women were washing and reusing cloths instead of using disposable sanitary pads. A more bitter truth is that even in 2018, that is almost after a decade since the conduction of the aforementioned survey, different states show different stats on the ‘usage of sanitary napkins’, ranging from more than 90% to less than 30%.
A SMALL GLIM OF HOPE
In a positive light, the issues concerning the menstrual health conditions and the importance of menstrual hygiene is being noticeably addressed since the past few years. The scheme of providing a sanitary napkin at the lowest price (Re. 1/-) and a packet of napkins (of 4 pads) at Rs. 4/- is a great and welcoming initiative undertaken by the Narendra Modi Government. The Scheme came into force in August 2019 under the Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP). The napkins are available at the various Janaushadhi Kendras, that were established for providing medicines and other related necessities at affordable prices. There are, at present, more than 7500 Janaushadhi Kendras across the country (as of 19 March 2021). The government is expecting to increase them to 10500 by 2025, as per a statement of Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, D. V. Sadananda Gowda. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his recent address on the occasion of Janaushadhi Week which starts from March 1, lauded the scheme for its ability to save costs. He highlighted that the Yojana had helped to save around 9000 Crore Rupees due to its low-cost strategy. A mention was also made about the Yojana’s ability of becoming an excellent medium of service and employment. He further suggested more people to come forward and get themselves accessed to this scheme.
The list of Kendra’s functioning in our country can be accessed through this link. The data lets out the variability with respect to the establishment of Kendra’s. While some states have a considerable number of centers, others have very few. Further, it is to be noted that though Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of Kendra’s, the number of women using sanitary napkins in the state is less than 50%. These mandates spread of awareness besides giving equal importance and assistance to all the States and Union Territories as per their requirements and preferences. The Union Territories and the North Eastern States, especially, need more attention.
Moreover, it is highly presumable that not all districts could have the Kendra within itself and it is certain that many women are still left far away from this scheme and even if they are closer, there might be lack of awareness. Ergo, awareness, availability, and affordability should be the three mantras that the Government must adhere to for succeeding in this project.
THE QUESTION OF FEASIBILITY?
Though the Scheme is laudable, yet it is also equally important to analyze the other side of the coin. The first challenge is managing the demand and supply chains. With the Government’s assurance that the Kendra’s have access to napkins at Re. 1, there might be a soar in demand for napkins. Therefore, it is important to have adequate production facilities. Similarly, people who already have access to napkins at reasonable prices could take the advantage of this scheme, thereby leaving the poor and low-income groups in dismay. For instance, in Kerala, it was reported from some operators that people were buying and ordering napkins in bulk due to its cheaper availability, and that this had led to a shortage[iii]. Apparently, this reduces the availability of napkins to the needy and poor. The quality of such napkins is also a concern. It was stated that the size of these napkins is smaller than the ones supplied by private companies[iv]. So, people might not get impressed assuming that such napkins might be of low standards. Other challenges include ‘lack of awareness’, ‘issues with disposal’, ‘non-availability to rural areas’, and ‘no ground level implementation’.
The present Yojana as well as the continuous address on this “hidden” issue is surely a welcome step. However, at the same, it is also to be noted that this is just a first step towards a larger fight against unhygienic menstrual practices. For an effective strategy towards the same, Government’s ceaseless monitoring and assistance is crucial. Similarly, cooperation by the State Governments is inevitable for the scheme to survive. It is also important to ensure that the project reaches the rural segments and this should be our vital concern. The Government/s must ensure that at least one to two of such Kendra’s are set up in a district and that most preferably, the same shall be initiated in a Government Hospital.
No scheme can emerge victorious without some underpinning measures, ergo, implementation of additional steps is needed to achieve the intended target. These include steps like easy access to clean water, installation of dustbins in public toilets, awareness regarding proper disposal of used sanitary napkins, campaigns on importance of menstrual health, etc. Besides all these, the most essential step is to break the social stigma concerning menstruation. People, despite of their genders, should be encouraged to share insights on the same. Menstrual hygiene is a woman’s basic right and not considering it can result in serious infringement of their right to Equality and Health under Articles 14 and 21, respectively, of the Constitution.
[i] “The cost of not maintaining menstrual hygiene“, Tomorrow makers in collaboration with the Economic Times
[ii] Dasgupta A, Sarkar M (2008) Menstrual hygiene: how hygienic is the adolescent girl? Indian Journal of Community Medicine 33: 77–80
[iii] Kanth Ajay, “Demand for Rs 1 sanitary pads soars in Kerala after PM Modi’s I-Day speech“, The New Indian Express, 7 September 2020
[iv] Watta Anureet, Re 1 Suvidha Pads – a Small Step towards a Larger Fight for Menstrual Hygiene, SheThePeople, September 2020
Kishinchand Chellaram Law College Mumbai