Another Women’s Day is upon us. Apart from being a day of repeating yearly customary paeans to Women, what could have been different? What could be the real celebration of Women’s Day for the Women of India? After all, Women’s Day has been around since 1913, and it might be around for another century. But, what could be the game-changer for Women of India? Free Sanitary Products.
Now, one might say what has got free sanitary products to do with Women’s Day? The country is busy honouring the Women and their achievements and empowerment. Why bring up a colourless topic like free sanitary products when the Women are being hailed with gusto? It is not in sync with the bigger picture of women’s emancipation and the newer heights scaled by Women in India.
Well, let’s have a dose of reality.
80% of Indian Women do NOT use sanitary products
Women’s population in India is 66 Cr. Let’s take 40 Cr as the number for the Women of menstruation age. Assume that a Woman uses 8 sanitary pads, on average, during a menstruation cycle. Let’s take a price of a sanitary pad at Rs. 5/-. So, what should be the per annum size of the Indian sanitary pad market? 40 Cr * 8 * 5 * 12 = 19200 Cr. Remember, all these are conservative estimates.
In reality, what’s the size of the Indian sanitary pad market? 4000 Cr, at best. Meaning, only 20% of Indian Women use sanitary pads. That’s about it!!! Now, if this is not shocking, what is??? Are we staying in a 21st Century India or a country stuck in medieval times? Why should 80% of Indian Women NOT use sanitary pads?
Yes, you can ask for a survey/source to back up the above truth. In India, a survey covering the entire country is not feasible and it will not see the light of the day. However, the numbers do not lie. If anybody wants to refute the veracity of 80% Indian Women not using sanitary pads, s/he is welcome to prove it with counter-data of any sorts.
Why Free Sanitary Products?
The detractors will say why free sanitary products?
- It is not that critical an issue. Well, if menstruation hygiene of 50% of the population is not vital, what is?
- Awareness is important. Well, the Government has been working on awareness for ages, what’s the output? We even had a movie, what’s changed?
- It is too expensive for the Government to supply. If it is expensive for the Government, think about the buying power of the Women not using sanitary products. To whom, will it be more feasible to intervene?
- It is a luxury item. Our women have stayed so long without sanitary products, do they really need it? In that case, we might as well bring back child marriages, sati etc. How about going back to living in the caves?
- Why are we even discussing this topic? Good families do not discuss such issues. Yes, this is precisely why 80% of Indian Women are left out of using sanitary pads.
The Advantages of Free Sanitary Products
Sanitary pad is, of course, a simple product which for reasons endemic to Indian society has not become ubiquitous. When made free, apart from being a simple product of menstruation hygiene, it signifies a change in attitude. A change in mindset.
- Women are free from the clutches of the typical Indian patriarchal society.
- Women, also, have a right to a life of dignity and respect.
- More so, Women are important for India. The country cannot claim to prosper without the efforts to ensure the well-being of 50% of the population.
From every rationale, free sanitary products are a no-brainer idea.
The Real Change
The discussion on menstruation hygiene remains a taboo subject in India. The stigma on “pads” and “periods” is difficult to be washed away. If even after 70 + years of independence, the magnitude of the issue does not reduce in intensity, it requires a drastic intervention. Piecemeal solutions won’t do.
If this is not the time for free sanitary products, when is? The discussion on approach, awareness, access, affordability can continue forever. In the meantime, let’s have free sanitary products. Come to think of it. If Women do not have periods, none of us would be born. Yet, their menstrual hygiene, a bodily function, is taboo.
India levied 12% GST on sanitary pads, as a luxury item. After a furore, the Government made it exempt from GST. The hue and cry were for a worthy cause. The worthier cause is making sanitary products freely available to the Women of India. The worthiest cause is to regard Indian Women as equal partners in Indian society. The starting point will be to take the usage of sanitary pads to 100% of the population.
On this Women’s Day or for that matter, every Women’s Day, India can continue to do lip-service to Women’s cause; it is a tried and tested option with incremental/difficult-to-notice results. Else, India can decide to make free sanitary products – the real change for Indian Women. A game-changer making Indian Women independent of men controlling their lives and menstruation.
PS: I am not a Women’s rights activist. Rather, just a stay-at-home father to six year-old twin daughters. The above thoughts are an expression of my growing up together with my daughters and wanting a just country for my daughters that treats all citizens fairly and equitably.