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Samya Ghosal

Menstrual health awareness in rural India is developing but there's still a lot of ground left to cover.

While many problems are plaguing rural India, there is one that needs to be talked about with utmost immediacy. This is primarily because it affects the backbone of every society, especially rural India which is women. While urban India has become sufficiently aware of menstruation and how it is a completely natural process of a woman’s body, there is still intense stigmatization against women during their periods being carried out in rural India.

Women become “impure”

Women in rural India are generally considered “unclean” during their menstrual cycles. They are not allowed to enter temples or offer prayers. A lot of them feel ashamed in even saying the word “periods” out loud, much less talk about it. Imagine being a woman, who looks after the household in every possible way and assists in looking after the agricultural land. Now imagine having periods and not having access to sanitary pads or even some privacy to change. Periods, when they happen to require a routine change of pads and availability of space and resources.

Period is synonymous to sickness

Women in rural India have been struggling for so long, that period is considered an actual “problem”. The men in these areas are either completely unaware of what it is or often regard it as a sickness. A lot of women in these parts of the country use old clothes, sometimes even unwashed, to manage their periods. While awareness is slowly growing and the word “pad” has started to become popular in villages, a lot still needs to be done. A lot of girls drop out of schools and jobs when their periods begin because it becomes an actual problem when they are faced with unavailability of sanitation, privacy, and awareness.

Government initiatives improving the situation

Some of the positive aspects regarding this context can be seen in states like Kerala, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and others, where it is mandated by the government to provide girls with sanitary pads in government schools. The efforts of Arunachalam Muruganantham (the real-life character on whom the movie “Padman” was based) have been successful in providing proper and affordable sanitary napkins to scores of villages across the country. Added to this are efforts made by groups such as the Mukti Project and Sukhibhava that have become very successful in giving women the proper support that they need. While the numbers are still grim (less than 10% women in rural India have access to sanitary pads and 28% of female students drop out due to periods), continuous efforts are being raised to improve the situation.

Providing sanitary pads and increasing awareness is more than just about health when it comes to rural India. As mentioned above, girls drop out of work and school and are stigmatized because of periods, it becomes an aspect of female empowerment in these regions. When women are capable of effectively taking care of themselves during this time, they can confidently march ahead into the flow of daily life. Without the basic amenities like sanitary pads and a positive outlook, leading a normal life during periods becomes tough.

Still a long way to go

The growing popularity of movies like “Padman” and the Oscar-winning Netflix Documentary “Period. End of a Sentence”, has revealed an aspect of rural India that quite frankly the urban were unaware of. This has allowed the growth of healthy conversation and awareness surrounding this topic. Such conversations and awareness are important as they form the foundation for effective action.

So, on this International Day for Rural Women, let us acknowledge the courage and strength shown by the women of rural India, not only in the various ways in which they face intense patriarchy but also their growing awareness and access to sanitary pads and people who support them during a very normal part of their lives.

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