Creating a Robust Ecosystem for Women Sanitation and Hygiene Products: The Social-Economic Paradigm
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Ironically, almost half of our country’s population constitute of women who have mostly been existing in the background for the longest time. But the nation is gradually realizing and respecting women power. With an increasing contribution to the country's socio-economic and political growth, women have become prominent decision makers. While we are observing this positive turnaround, the state of women sanitation and hygiene remains in darkness.
Pre-budget Economic Survey (2016-17) stated that lack of access to proper sanitation facilities puts a disproportionate burden on our female population and highlighting how important it is for the country to wake up and realize the significance of women sanitation as a part of the social-economic paradigm for our economy’s development.
Monster of Menstrual Hygiene
Women sanitation is incomplete without addressing the issue of menstrual hygiene in the right manner. For almost one out of three girls in South Asia, life stops during their periods due to lack of access to sanitation or proper menstrual hygiene products (according to a study by WaterAid and UNICEF). As many as 40 per cent of Indian women from age 15 to 24 do not have access to sanitary products during their periods as per India’s National Health Survey.
It is an obvious assumption that the impact is more in rural areas than in urban, here we are blind to the facts related to the issue. 82 per cent women in India are unaware of what a sanitary napkin is or what it is used for. The remaining 18 per cent of women in our country actually know how to use a sanitary napkin. Even well-educated women in most urban and semi-urban areas are also oblivious to proper hygiene practices during their periods. Because sanitizing toilet seats is not even considered as part of routine cleaning of washrooms, women in even metros are forced to use badly sanitized public washrooms during the sensitive time of the month. This highly increases the risk of infections and serious health threats.
Thanks to the taboo around menstruation, women who have been regularly using sanitary napkins also are ill-informed about its correct use. For instance, most females who regularly use sanitary pads do not know that a sanitary napkin should not be worn for more than 6-8 hours. A common mistake is that women normally wear it for around 12 to 16 hours.
What the Government Offered
Initiatives like Swachh Bharat have brought to the forefront the huge need for sanitation facilities in the country and there are individuals and non-profit organizations who have been doing work to improve sanitation by creating more awareness and enabling facilities. But we have just started our journey towards betterment. Active and constructive participation from the corporate world is called for. There are some brands and entrepreneurs who have taken on the responsibility of creating awareness and sustainable solutions for sanitation, especially women and menstrual sanitation. Still, more efforts are required. As per a report from IMARC Group, sanitary pads market in India is expected to reach a value of US$ 992.8 Million by 2024. Growing awareness around feminine hygiene and menstrual health, favorable policy initiatives, increasing disposable income, increasing demand for alternatives focused at health, comfort and convenience are some of the factors driving this promising category. It holds a huge entrepreneurial opportunity for Indian enterprises. It is the right time for Indian entrepreneurs to take a leading step on the world map by creating a robust ecosystem that supports eco-friendly practices and organic/bio-degradable products.
Corporate citizens need to analyze the gap that exists, understand the magnitude of the issue at hand and contribute towards a positive turnaround. There are majorly three areas that need immediate attention and action:
Education on Sanitation - Level of awareness and education around sanitation in the society is very low, even more, when it comes to women sanitation and menstrual hygiene. There is a need to encourage discussion, share information and create a healthy atmosphere to openly take on menstrual well-being and hygiene. View it as a wellness and health issue rather than label it in likes of ‘unspeakable’ and ‘tabooed’. Deepening the reach of this information and sensitization around the subject in both women and men alike. Taboos, superstitions and restraints around the subject adversely affect women exist in many ways. Unnecessary embarrassment attached to what is a very natural phenomenon push women to lead oppressed life. It has been known for women to take pills to control their visits to toilets during periods to avoid getting noticed by male colleagues. All this at the cost of their health. Shying away from implementing Menstrual leave policy and seeing it as a weakness of the gender shows how wrong the current societal outlook is. The corporate world needs to support and encourage voices for widespread sensitization of society and change mass perceptions through high impact innovative communication.
Improving Access to Women Sanitation Solutions – Lack of access and availability of women hygiene products adds on to the difficulty of the problem. Sustainable solutions at affordable price points are imperative if we want to make any progress towards widespread adoption. More brands are required to take on the task of developing innovative solutions keeping women needs at the centre. Easy to use, affordable, less environment impact manufacturing and eco-friendly disposal are key for developing products. Driven individuals and organizations have taken on the challenge to produce solutions for female hygiene which are sustainable, but miles need to be covered. Especially steps for greater product use penetration, for example, policymakers should recognize menstrual hygiene products as a necessity and reduced tax imposed, push through various channels for increased usage in rural and semi-urban areas, etc.
Making Periods Safe for the Planet - India alone has around 12.3 billion disposable sanitary napkins to take care of every year and the majority of these are not biodegradable, so we can imagine what menstrual waste is doing to our planet. It is a near impossible task to deal with existing waste, let alone the fact that we are adding to it every day. What does that leave us? It dictates that we shift to natural products which do not just take care of the hardships women face during their periods but also problems the planet is facing because of it. We know that sanitary napkins are one of the most practical products in this respect. Thus, the industry should develop authentic sanitary napkins using natural raw material which are completely biodegradable. Meanwhile, consumers also need to become aware of the options they have and opt for use of 100per cent cotton and biodegradable napkins which are the most viable solution considering both manufacturing and disposal. Also, they are the best bet for women users giving them freedom from the discomfort and irritation caused by products made of synthetic materials and chemicals.
Women sanitation and menstrual hygiene is not just an industry, it is a force impacting the future of humans across the globe and hence rightly demanding attention on all fronts. In the past few years, we have seen a change, but this is just the beginning. Nothing short of a revolution is called for.