Menstruation is an extremely touchy subject in India and the question of menstrual waste disposal and hygiene is hardly ever discussed. All of us (yes, even us women) seem to think it is a topic best kept hidden because, hey ‘the red in sindoor is sanskaari but not the red in menstrual blood’.
The magnitude of the problem:
The majority of women and girls in India use homemade products to manage their menstruation.
There are over 355 million menstruating women and girls in India, but millions of women across the country still face significant barriers to a comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual hygiene management.
70% of women in India say their family cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. And in 2012, 40% of all government schools lacked a functioning common toilet, and another 40% lacked a separate toilet for girls.
How they deal with the problem:
The majority of women and girls in India use homemade products like clothes, ash, leaves, paper etc. to manage their menstruation thus significantly increasing their chances of acquiring reproductive tract infections which in rural areas may be life threatening even.
Some people believe that clothes are a perfectly safe option provided they are washed and dried properly but therein lies the catch.
Owing to the secrecy shrouding menstruation, girls often dry their clothes under other garments and re-use the somewhat damp clothes the next day.
The cities in India have a different but maybe, more serious problem:
There is no mild way of putting it. There is no proper menstrual waste disposal system in any city in India.
In the urban areas, there are more number of women using sanitary pads and significantly more menstruation waste is generated.
Sanitary pad and tampon producers have been focusing awareness campaigns on using their products for a healthy, confident, and sugar overdosed woman who will necessarily wear white pants on her period day.
Unfortunately, there has not even been a ‘whisper’ of waste management related to these products once used by women to ‘Stayfree’.
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has classified sanitary napkins as municipal solid waste.
According to the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, menstrual waste is considered household waste. As per the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 199 it is bio-medical waste.
But, that’s a whole lot of mumbo jumbo. Let me break down what actually happens:
– Most of the sanitary pads are thrown out into the open, JUST LIKE THAT. If you happen to pass any drain or sewers at the back of a house, you can be almost certain that you will find bloodied pads there, stuff which surely belongs to the woman of the house, Stuff that is too ‘unsanskaari” for her to be throwing into the garbage van with the regular garbage bag.
– Some sanitary pads which actually are disposed of into the garbage vans land up in the landfills. Wrapping sanitary waste in a newspaper does not lead to automatic segregation of sanitary waste from other waste material.
This has led to the problem of rag pickers(most of who are really young children) not being able to differentiate sanitary waste from other kinds of waste. In fact, to know what is inside a wrapped newspaper ball, he/she will need to open the wrapping. This also has the potential to lead to spread of serious infections and diseases (like Hepatitis b and C) amongst them.
– What happens after the waste reaches the landfill? Well, NOBODY KNOWS! There are no clear laws which determine what to do with menstrual waste after that. so they just stay there, building up a mountain and spreading infections.
Kolkata, which is one of the four metro cities is flooded annually during monsoons because the main sewers of the city remain blocked throughout the year.
People throw all kinds of waste into their drains and that accumulates, coming up all the way to the main sewers.
And a very large part of that rampantly thrown waste clogging the sewers is formed by bloodied menstrual pads.
Sharmistha Dutta, 23, recounts her own experience at a public gathering, “I literally gagged up at the sight of what was beside my commode. There was this crude trench dug up next to the commode and bloodied pads containing fresh blood to brown blood were thrown pell-mell into it. Flies were rotting inside and the washroom was part of a famous auditorium in Kolkata.”
Lately, the government has been directing a large part of its efforts towards menstrual hygiene but sadly, very little is being done to solve the humungous problem of menstrual waste disposal.
Before we are suffocated under bloodied pads, let us learn to clean up our own mess. Some of us are too disgusted to even look at our pads yet, we do not give a second thought before throwing them casually.
Think of that little rag picker child who will prod open your waste only to find a bloodied pad. You will be responsible if that child dies of Hep C. Stop sharing Facebook posts on menstruation and mend YOUR ways first.
Image credits: Google
You may also like to read: