In 2010 an AC Nielson and Plan India report stated that only 12% out of the 355 million reproductive-age women in India used absorbent pads or other hygienic sanitary methods. The figure is abysmal, compared to countries like China, where majority of women use sanitary napkins. Most of them relied on old fabric, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers.
According to gynecologists, use of alternative sanitary care measures such as unsterilised cloths, sand and ash make women susceptible to infections and diseases. Not maintaining proper hygiene could lead to severe infections like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and even Cervical Cancer. According to World Health Organisation, India accounted to 27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths. Occurrence of Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI) is 70% more common amongst women who use unhygienic materials during menstruation stated a survey conducted by Dasra.
Majority of the women due to poor financial condition cannot buy quality sanitary napkins, among the of cloth users, 45% reuse cloth and 70% dry them in shade, increasing chances of infections.
It is not just a health issue; the girl child’s education is also being affected due to this. As per a survey conducted by Dasra and Forbes Marshall, approximately 23% of girls (aged 12-18 years) opted out of the school in India after they started menstruating. It also mentioned that in some places almost 66% of girls would skip school during this time and eventually one-third of them dropped out. Adolescent girls in rural India are unable to attend up to 50 days of schooling in a year due to inadequate menstrual care, the report said.
East India emerged as the region where the state of feminine hygiene is significantly poorer. Amongst women who use cloth, over 70% in East said they feel insecure during periods and wished they knew more on the subject, said Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director, Plan India.