Scotland has passed the landmark legislation recently which would ensure availability of period products such as pads and tampons for free to anyone who needs it. The legislation made Scotland the first country in the world to make menstrual hygiene-related products free.
The legislation, known as ‘Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill’, requires local authorities to ensure that period products are generally obtainable free of charge. In addition to this, it also requires schools and colleges to ensure free availability of period products. It has also been directed that the products must be available at all the designated public places in the country.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, expressed her pride at the passing of such legislation by writing on Twitter, “Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls.”
Can we replicate this in India?
Period poverty is rampant in India. In fact, according to the report of the Ministry of Health, only 12% of menstruators in the country have exposure to proper period products. The rest of 88% of the menstruating populace is largely dependent on unsafe materials like rags, cloth, hay, sand and ash. This exposes them to infectious urogenital diseases such as urinary tract infection (UTI), bacterial vaginosis with skin irritation, vaginal itching, white and green discharge and others. In addition to this, it has been observed that an average of more than 40% of students in India resort to missing school while menstruating as a consequence of social stigma, isolation, embarrassment and inaccessibility of products. In fact, it has been estimated that 1 out of 5 girls drop out of the school after they start experiencing a menstrual cycle. This clearly shows the need for legislation like the one enacted by Scotland.
However, replicating the same in the exact format might not be the most feasible solution for India, for the following reasons.
1. India has a huge population. Such a law can increase the financial burden on the government. Plus there is also a chance of leakage considering the prevalence of corruption in the government machinery which can lead to a drain of government resources without benefitting the population.
2. Indians tend to have an attitude of not valuing things that we get for free. If the menstrual hygiene products are made available for free, there are good chances that such products might not be used efficiently leading to the waste of resources as well as an increase in the environmental burden as a result of excessive waste generation.
What kind of policy intervention can be beneficial for India?
India is a developing country with a young and enthusiastic-to-work population. Taking advantage of this, and bringing more women in the workforce, the government of India through policy measures can encourage women in every district of the country to make reusable menstrual hygiene products. With the help of corporates, the women can be trained for the vocation, who can then set up a unit and can sell the products at nominal rates to the underprivileged menstruators.
The government can also promote the use of reusable menstrual products such as Menstrual Cups or Reusable Pads. This can further reduce the economic cost of such products, making it affordable for many.
Most importantly, the government can initiate talks about menstruation to end the stigma around it. It can increase awareness regarding menstruation by involving more men in the conversation. A full-fledged movement to end period poverty by the government might be more effective than legislation to provide such products for free or at nominal rates. This was observed when in 2018, on Women’s Day, the government launched 100% oxy-biodegradable sanitary napkins, ‘Suvidha’ in packs of four at a price of 10, but the move was unable to generate nation-wide response and awareness. Through a movement, the government will be able to start a chain of reactions where every citizen will take up the responsibility to ensure the availability of period products to the underprivileged. This will not only reduce its burden but will also improve the reach significantly.
How can CSR help in promoting Menstrual Hygiene in the Country?
Several corporates in India have taken up WASH-related projects under their Corporate Social Responsibility, to support the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan of the government. They have set up toilets and improved sanitary conditions in many schools and colleges already. They can use the same infrastructure and systems to introduce period products for free at such places.
The Non-governmental organization ‘Goonj’ facilitates the production of simple-reusable cloth pads made by local women. This also provides the opportunity of entrepreneurship for these local women across the country. The corporates can collaborate with such organizations or replicate the system under the ambit of their CSR initiatives to improve the availability of period products in the country.
‘Menstrupedia’, a for-profit enterprise, designs and develops comic-books on menstruation in the local context to impart public awareness and education around menstrual health management (MHM) to adolescent girls in schools. Corporates can utilise its CSR capacity to promote such literature, which can help in increasing the awareness of people around menstrual hygiene.
Most importantly, the corporates can ensure that the conversation about menstruation does not limit to only female students in the schools supported by their CSR funds, thus helping break the stereotype among the children at an early age, therefore the future generations are free from this prejudice.