Why India doesn’t need the sanitary napkin revolution? Myths and Reality

A fascinating article on how narratives are built to sell certain products. It is ironical that companies which sell products are actually not doing the same in their home countries. Sanitary napkins seem to be such an example.

Sinu Joseph, a hygiene counsellor, exposes many a  myth regarding this matter:

Foreign organizations are promoting the need to introduce sanitary napkins in India by saying that 88% of Indian women are using cloth. But in their own country they are promoting reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups, citing environmental reasons.

Open any write-up on menstruation in India, and you will find horror stories of how only 12% of Indian women are using Sanitary Napkins and that the others are almost dying from lack of access to such products. You will read about the poor Indian girl in a village who is dropping out of school because she suddenly started her period. And you will read about how India is full of superstitions and menstrual taboos that are coming in the way of us breaking free and embracing our body….and Sanitary Napkins.

Yes, these are horror stories; because most of what is written about India and menstruation is not true. And it is on the basis of this false information, that decisions are being made for India.

Having worked on ground for over 5 years now and interacting with over 15,000 women and girls across rural India, I have been witnessing a disconnect between the reality of the situation and what is projected in the media, by developmental organizations and even by international organizations such as UNICEF and UK’s Water Aid and WASH.

I initially thought, rather naively, that it must be their lack of understanding of the ground reality. Recently, I had the unfortunate privilege to find out why such organizations talk of India as they do. I was invited as one of the key speakers at the International Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice, held in Boston in June 2015. It was during the course of this conference that I discovered what is really going on and the intentions of those who decide for India.

The author goes onto narrate what goes on these conferences where results are inferred from really sample size and applied to the other country.

Further, the hypocricy:

The hypocrisy is such that while foreign organizations are promoting the need to introduce sanitary napkins in India by saying that 88% of Indian women are using cloth, in their own country they are promoting reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups, citing environmental reasons. If that is the case, then India is far ahead of the rest of the world in being environment friendly.

In the light of the latest wave of western feminism, movements (such as the Free Blood Movement) which promote women’s right to bleed without using any product are being applauded and encouraged. At the same time, international organizations look down upon indigenous women who for generations have bled naturally without using any product.

But what took the cake was when, at the conference, an excited American activist told me that I should tie up with one of these cloth-pad making NGOs (which I’d rather not name) to start distributing cloth pads to rural Indian women because it is environment friendly and a safer alternative to sanitary napkins! Imagine the drama of telling our rural women to throw away their piece of menstrual cloth and instead use my packaged version of it, which by the way will also cost them. Imagine teaching her about being environment friendly as a new concept, when all along she has not used a single bit of environmentally damaging menstrual product. Imagine trying to educate her about cloth being healthy, when she and all generations before her have been quietly following natural methods of managing menstruation.

The ridiculousness of the suggestion made me both laugh and seethe with anger.

Then there are stories on how an Indian traditional practice which is abhorred by these experts is actually being suggested by the same under a different guise.

Overall, it all looks like a sham and a scam..

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