Affordable sanitary napkins for village girls okayed

To be launched in August, the scheme aims at ensuring that adolescent girls in the rural areas have adequate knowledge about menstrual hygiene and use of sanitary napkins. A pack of six sanitary napkins will be sold under a National Rural Health Mission brand name, “Freedays.”

The packs will be distributed by community health workers in every village, who are popular as ASHA or accredited social health activist. The activists will receive an incentive of Re 1 on every pack sold in addition to one free pack every month.

Distribution of sanitary napkins to village women through a subsidised scheme can reduce the chances of reproductive tract infections during the menstrual cycles. In the absence of sanitary napkins and awareness, many a time rural women are forced to used gunny bags, sand, ash and even plastics at the risk of infection.

Evidence suggests that lack of access to menstrual hygiene—including sanitary napkins, toilets in schools, availability of water, privacy and safe disposal—could contribute to local infections including reproductive tract infections (RTI).

Studies have shown that RTIs are closely interrelated with poor menstrual hygiene and pose grave threats to women’s lives, livelihood, and education.

According to the Union Health Ministry's initial estimates, the scheme envisages covering 200 million rural women, each using 100 sanitary napkins every year. Assuming each napkin costs Re 1, the programme requires Rs 2,000 crore every year. But targets were scaled down later due to financial constraints. 

In the first phase, the scheme will cover 25 per cent of the target population which means 1.5 crore girls of 10-19 years of age in 152 districts in 20 states.

Since a part of the programme will be training the rural women on how to make safe and secure sanitary napkins from discarded clothes, the officials expect that the usage of sanitary napkins will increase in villages in future.

The sanitary napkins will be sourced from Hindustan Latex Limited and self-help groups that make sanitary napkins out of old clothes.

Easy access and convenient pricing are the strategies adopted by the ministry for increasing the usage of safe and hygienic practices during menstruation. Disposal of these napkins are not an issue as they are biodegradable.

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