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The State Of Menstrual Hygiene In Delhi’s Slums Is Alarming. Women Have No Access To Sanitary Napkins

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The stigma that surrounds menstruation is bad enough as it is. Thousands of women suffer due to a lack of menstrual hygiene products and proper awareness. They are forced to use cloth, a newspaper and in some cases even dried manure instead of what they should be using, sanitary napkins. Not to mention, prejudices and taboos that surround the concept of menstruation is yet another battle women are forced to fight. When you throw the pandemic and its impact into the mix, you’ll know what a chaos it has been. The condition of women in the slums of Delhi has now worsened due to the scarcity of menstrual hygiene products

The problem of scarcity of sanitary napkins and tampons for women in underprivileged areas has been prevalent for a while. Which is why when the coronavirus wave hit and forced us into lockdown, it got much worse. Sanitary pads aren’t available in remote areas and places where they are, women don’t have access or enough money to afford it. You see, menstrual hygiene products are not considered a luxury and not a necessity. It’s always baffled me. Periods aren’t optional for women, why should sanitary pads be? But it is what it is. 

In the slums clusters of Delhi, women have no money to buy sanitary napkins. But that’s not their only issue when it comes to menstruation. They also have no access to clean and hygienic washrooms. The ones in their tenements are crowded and filthy with a perennial water shortage. To top it all off, there is also a lack of awareness when it comes to menstrual health. All this has caused many women and young girls to give up on menstrual hygiene products and switch to reusable cloths which are a health hazard.  

16-year-old Babita Kumari works as a domestic help. She lives with her mother and siblings in Shaheed Bhagat Singh camp in Delhi said, “Earlier, we could ask our neighbours for sanitary pads or at times use the ones given to my sister from her school. We have stopped asking the neighbours because everyone is hard up for cash these days and schools are closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. What I earn isn’t enough for us to even afford two square meals a day or buy my mother’s medicines. Sanitary pads are a luxury.” 

Not being able to afford sanitary pads, Babita was forced to switch to cloth. The substitution has caused her itchy and painful rashes. Talking about that she said, “I can’t even move around freely in my home, because I am, too, worried about the bloodstains. Other girls in our slum cluster are facing a similar problem.”  

Schools are the only places that sanitary pads are readily available for these women. But with them closed, the girls living in the slums of our nation’s capital have no access to menstrual hygiene products. With soiled communal toilets and having to resort to cloth, these girls are living in the worst conditions. 

Komal Kumari, another teenager living in the  Nehru camp in Delhi said, “The biggest problem that we faced during the Covid-19 pandemic was during our menstrual cycles. We have to wash our dirty cloth pads, dry, and reuse them. Since all our family members were at home during the pandemic-induced lockdown restrictions, we had to hide the cloth pads and take it to the community toilet, where scarcity of water is a perennial problem.” 

This is the reality of what is happening and why sanitary pads should be declared an essential commodity and made readily available. The thing is, all the stigma that surrounds menstruation has caused people to overlook and ignore these very serious problems. I mean, Babita called sanitary pads a “luxury” because to these girls they are when they shouldn’t be. Maintaining menstrual hygiene is just as essential as eating or drinking water. It’s not an option just as having access to sanitary napkins should not be a privilege. Hopefully, people will see it that way now. 

Also Read: Women In Remote Hilly Areas Do Not Have Access To Sanitary Pads During The Lockdown. Why Are These Not Considered Essential?

Of course, in these last few months, numerous NGO’s have been distributing sanitary pads and other menstrual hygiene products in these slums across Delhi. One such NGO is Chetna. Its director Sanjay Gupta told HT, “Young girls living on the streets are not even able to manage menstrual hygiene even during pre-COVID times. The viral outbreak has deepened their woes. The difficulty in obtaining old clothes from various sources, lack of water, growing job losses, privacy issues and myths are collectively responsible for the travails at hand.”  

Even though the central government has ensured that Suvidha sanitary napkins are available at Jan-Aushadhi Kendras under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Aushadhi Yojana (PMJAY) across the country at Re.1 per pad, women are unaware about this scheme and hence continue to suffer. 

If the government is aware of what a serious problem this poses, why aren’t more steps being taken to combat it? Clearly, selling sanitary pads at Re 1 is not enough considering barely any women know about this. It’s a good initiative but due to lack of advertisement and education, it has been rendered ineffective.  

Hygiene is a basic requirement for us all. Especially in times like these. Why must these girls have to compromise? Lack of menstrual hygiene products and menstrual health awareness has led them to use clothes for many years which puts their health and life at risk. Sanitary pads and tampons need to be declared as essential commodities so they are accessible to every woman and young girl around our nation at an affordable price. It’s time we combat this problem of menstrual health head on instead of being ignorant and letting our women suffer.

Women From A Village In Shahapur Distribute Free Sanitary Pads To Migrant Workers. People Are Thinking About Women. Yay!

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