If we are able to provide safe and hygienic toilets, affordable sanitary napkins, we could stop girls from dropping out of schools and help women feel more confident so they can pursue their dreams, says Shalini Thackeray.
Several research findings have highlighted the effect of poor sanitation on women's health, safety and success in life.
A recent study showed that seventy percent of Indian women cannot afford sanitary napkins.
Did you know that 23 per cent of Indian girls drop out of school because of menstruation-related problems?
Till date, millions of girls and women in India are subject to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating.
Majority of them have no access to clean and safe sanitary products.
The lack of awareness and inability to afford sanitary napkins have deprived girls of their right to education.
Here are some basic steps that can help fight the taboo around menstrual health in India:
Awareness and information in schools
Through intensive one-on-one counseling, the myths and taboos on menstruation stand dispelled.
It is important to build the capacities of teachers and educators to ensure that they are able to address menstrual hygiene management with their pupils without fear or embarrassment.
They need to understand and be able to educate that menstruation is a natural biological process that women and girls need to manage.
This way students will realise that this is a normal part of adolescence, a time during which both boys and girls experience external and internal changes to their bodies.
Easy availability of sanitary products
It is also important that all schools and colleges be equipped with sanitary napkin vending machines.
This will help girls to easily access it during school hours during an emergency.
This will also cut down the dropout rates of girls from schools and help them to pursue further education.
If cost-effective napkins are dispensed through vending machines, it will help promote easy access to menstruation hygiene during schools hours.
Another way to make cost-effective napkins available for girls in educational institutions is through the creation of self-help groups by local bodies in rural and urban areas.
Self-help groups can serve two purposes -- provide cost-effective sanitary napkins to the needy girls and also create employment opportunities for skilled women across the state.
Include sanitary napkins under essential commodities
A tax-free sanitary napkin can be a great step but not the ultimate solution.
Since it is used by almost half the country's population it is high time sanitary napkins be considered among basic and essential commodities.
It is imperative that feminist and non-governmental organisations demand the inclusion of sanitary napkins as an essential healthcare commodity under the Essential Commodities Act.
Maintaining menstrual hygiene will be impossible without revoking the law. This may also help regulate the pricing, making it affordable in currently inaccessible areas.
More clean and safe public toilets for women
Indian women have been facing a significant challenge of finding safe, clean and private places to urinate, defecate and manage their menstruation.
The unavailability of safe toilets increases women's levels of stress.
Constructing more number of clean and hygienic toilets in public places is the need of the hour.
There should be a robust system for managing school water and sanitation facilities.
If we were to assure that all girls and women had access to good number of toilets in public places that were safe, accessible and comfortable, we can see improvements in health, educational outcomes and productivity levels of Indian women.
Solving these problems aren't so simple.
We must all strive together to be culturally acceptable, environmentally sound, more accessible and sensitive towards gender.
Lack of access to sanitation and hygiene not only impacts a woman's health but the entire family.
With the right awareness and resources, women will feel confident and be able to pursue and fulfil their dreams.
Lead image -- a still from Padman -- published for representational purposes only.
Shalini Thackeray is president, Kalki Foundation and general secretary, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.