Entry for The Stayfree & Healthy Day contest
Sometimes, life may be a bit harsh but if some basic facts are overlooked, it can be even more torturous than hell. Missing woods for the trees is a specialty of our government that most of the time claims to focus on areas like education and infrastructural development schemes for rural areas. However, what we fail to realize is that education is a ‘superstructure’ that is, it requires a foundation to stand upon. That foundation often lies neglected and hence all such super-schemes fall flat on their faces. I am talking about the very basic thing called the hygiene, the female hygiene especially, because it is rather more complex in nature. Unfortunately, even in this era of ‘India Shining’, girl children are still considered an unwanted responsibility or ‘amaanat’ of the would be-groom’s family. This is why even their own parents do not bother much about their education and development. Add to this the callous attitude of the insolent government; much of the development of rural areas is left to kind hearted and dedicated NGOs willing to lend some support to destitute village women living in abject conditions.
The statistics paint a grim picture; according to a research study, ‘Sanitary Protection: Every Woman's Health Right’(October 2010), carried out by the leading information and measurement company, A C Nielson- a staggering 75 percent of rural women do not have the required knowledge regarding female hygiene. This study, conducted on a sample size of 1,033 rural women by a team of 151 gynecologists, was reviewed and endorsed by NGO Plan India.
As per its report, almost 81 percent of rural women use unsterilized clothes instead of sanitary napkins, mainly due to price factor. The alternatives like sand, ash, husk, unclean rags and such things are widely used and increase the chances of reproductive tract infections by 70 percent. The price factor, poor financial conditions of rural women and lack of female hygiene are constrains that discourage the use sanitary napkins. More than 45 percent reuse their sanitary cloth and some 70 percent shade-dry them thus increasing the changes of tract infections. These facts are quite painful since a healthy woman is the core of a healthy family
As said earlier, education and such things are superstructures, but we have to build a proper foundation for them. It is certainly an arduous task but not impossible if we all join hands together and spark a change. Most important change has to be done in the direction of building a strong base for welfare of girl-child. Another very depressing fact that survey has uncovered is that adolescent rural girls have to miss more than 50 days of schooling every year only because of menstruation and related troubles. Even more upsetting is another fact- some 30 percent of rural girls between 12-18 years, completely drop their studies because of inadequate sanitary facilities in their schools and/or after they begin menstruating. Lack of sanitary facilities is not a new thing in our country. It is one thing that has never been taken seriously but in fact is one of the most basic elements in the development of a healthy country. We need to create a strong base first not ignoring this important thing in overall aspect of female hygiene.
Earlier, SNs were misunderstood as a bit elite, a luxury rather than a necessity but according to the study- around 97 percent of gynecologists recommend their use as a strong preventive measure against reproductive tract infections, and even cervical cancer.
Some steps can be taken by us so that we can contribute to the betterment of rural girls and women.
1. Easy Distribution- NGOs, no doubt, do their best but one thing they can be requested and persuaded to add to their list is the wide distribution of sanitary napkins at very low costs.
2. No Tax - Campaigning against the taxation of sanitary napkins is must. We can start a sign petition and involve more and more people into the wave. Government should be requested to include SNs under essential health items.
3. Low Cost Versions- With a majority of rural women compromising on their health due to price factors, local cottage industries should be persuaded to make low cost napkins especially for poor womenfolk.
4. Sanitary Bank- Creation of a ‘Sanitary Napkin Bank’ where urban women can donate as per their wish can be very helpful.
5. Vending Machines - In schools, primary health centres and rural areas to ensure availability of SNs at all times at very low cost can be extremely helpful.
6. Clean & Safe Ladies Toilets- Most of the time, girl miss schools due to poor toilets and washrooms. This aspect needs special attention. Proper ladies toilets in schools can curb the high dropout rate.
7. Educating Maids - About the hygiene and infections- Charity starts at home- educating your maid about use and health benefits of sanitary napkins can be a small but a significant step in this direction.
8. Group Power- Lastly, those who have both, a will and some time, can make a group and visit under privileged schools for educating girls about female hygiene.
Choosing a SN like ‘Stayfree’ is also a step towards betterment since some proceeds on every pack sold go to UNICEF. These are some steps we can undertake to make the lives of rural women better. If we really wish to develop, we need to come out of our stifling cultural cocoons as well for we still believe in mindless myths and taboos attached to menstruation.
We cannot become a superpower or even a developed nation with such dwindling bases. In fact, 100 percent in Singapore, 88 percent in Japan but mere 12 percent of women in India, use SNs. The Union Health Ministry has declared some initiatives to provide SNs at very low prices, this scheme too, as usual, is yet to take off.
It is high time to start a spark of change for the betterment our less fortunate daughters and sisters. As Mahatma Gandhi said ‘be the change you wish to see’, we need to stand up and change what is undesired. After all, even in our diversity, we are still related by one common bond- the bond of ‘womanhood’. We all should help each other and enjoy true celebrations of this scared relation! After all,
We Are The Spark !