How does the giving of sanitary napkins make a difference when there are no functional toilets in schools or where functional toilets have no water?
There is a potential loss of about US $100 billion in GDP to India as a result of girls dropping out of school due to menstrual health issues and thus getting into early marriages and early pregnancies. More girls in schools means universal primary education and increased gender parity while contributing to eradication of poverty. Educated mothers also contribute to improved maternal health and reduction in child mortality – all of which figure in the Sustainable Development Goals.
While merely doling out sanitary napkins without awareness and supportive infrastructure is unlikely to make any long term difference, the mere idea of what currently mass produced pads will do to the environment is also worrisome.
Meenakshi Gupta, founder member of Goonj says that cloth is something most women are familiar with. Mass produced sanitary pads are not biodegradable; these products entering rural India would cause havoc in the environment. Most cloth-based or other biodegradable products are either very small scale or at an experimental level still.
The Indian sanitary napkin market reached a value of nearly US$ 414 million in 2016, the market is expected to reach a value of around US$ 596 million by 2022, growing at a CAGR of more than 6% during 2017-2022 according to a report by ResearchandMarkets.com. Of course, commercial enterprises are making profits of this vast and still growing market. Some of the major players include P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Unicharm, Emami, ltd., Mankind, Kimberly-Clark and Edgewell.
The growth is primarily because Government and NGO entities are taking initiatives and workshops like the Niine movement. For instance, Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan launched the Ujjwala Sanitary Napkin initiative in Bhubaneswar this week. The ruse is that women in the area will have gainful employment. The Central scheme will be a counter to the Odisha government’s Khushi scheme, in which sanitary napkins are provided free of cost to female students of government and government-aided schools in the state.
In the first phase of the Ujjwala Sanitary Napkin initiative, around 100 local manufacturing units will be set up by oil marketing companies at Common Service Centres (CSCs) across 93 blocks in all 30 districts of Odisha. CSCs are facilities set up to deliver the Central government’s e-services in rural and remote locations.
The cost of setting up each manufacturing unit is expected to be Rs 2.94 crores, and the sanitary napkins will be priced at Rs 42 per pack of eight pads. Each facility will have the capacity to produce between 1,200 to 2,000 pads each day.
Increasing awareness about personal hygiene among females remains one of the primary factors facilitating the growth of the Indian sanitary napkin market. A report by the portal has segmented the Indian sanitary napkin market on the basis of type into disposable menstrual pads, cloth menstrual pads and biodegradable menstrual pads. Currently, disposable menstrual pads represent the largest product type, accounting for the majority of the total share.
Tackling menstrual waste through incinerators has been on the agenda of the government since December 2013 when the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan guidelines were modified to specify that “Setting up incinerators in schools, in women’s community sanitary complexes, in primary health centres, or in any other suitable place in village, etc can be taken up.”
This was taken further ahead by the Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya mission which aims for “at least one incinerator in the girl’s toilet block and niche to keep sanitary napkins,” but despite all the rhetoric, progress has been slow.
Sanitary napkin producers targeted upper and middle-class Indian women in the early 20th century, and are now hawking to tribal and rural women under the guise of the menstrual hygiene agenda.
Will they buy into it too?