Sanitary Pad Vending Machines in Warangal Government Schools

This article looks at the recent move to install sanitary pad vending machines in 8 government schools in Warangal district of Telangana. The impediments in the way of ensuring proper menstrual health for women as well as suggested solutions are the other focus areas of this article.

The Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) has recently taken a positive initiative in collaboration with the district administration of Warangal, Telangana to set up sanitary pad vending machine in 8 government schools of the district. Through this initiative, awareness regarding sanitary pads will be promoted. Girls who were earlier hesitant to buy pads from the stores will have lesser reluctance to use the essential item.

The move will help curb absenteeism and dropout rates to some extent as well. According to the ASCI, 23% of girls drop out because of non-availability of sanitary pads. It might also help to cure a dismal looking scenario where almost 80% of adolescent girls use cloth or absorbent material like ash during their menstrual cycle according to a 2018 report by the National Commission for Women.

Similar moves had earlier been taken in certain schools in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Delhi. Apart from reducing rates of absenteeism, a positive atmosphere was created where mothers were being taught about menstruation by their daughters. Women's Self Help Groups (SHGs) who were involved in the production of sanitary napkins also benefited. But in large parts of the country, myths regarding menstruation still abound.

Beliefs regarding menstruation

Menstruation has inspired several false beliefs over the years, almost all over the world. In fact, one of the earliest Roman books written in 73 AD mention how contact of a menstruating woman with crops leads to croplands turning barren. In certain parts of India, it is believed that contact of a menstruating woman with a cow leads to the cow turning infertile. Due to such false beliefs and a general lack of education, menstruating women are sometimes removed from community life during their periods. As a result, this lack of knowledge is perpetuated.

Sanitary pads and related taboos

The topic of sanitary pads is generally considered an unmentionable topic in most households. It is useful to note that when P&G launched Whisper in India in 1989, TV channels were reluctant to give primetime advertisement spots to the brand. Even at present, there is a certain reluctance to use the product. The failure to address such issues openly stands as a major impediment as far as promoting menstrual health is concerned.

Beyond sanitary pads

It is important to note that sanitary pads are quite expensive when we look at them from the perspective of the average rural household. Each pack costs about Rs. 40 on an average. The government sometimes tries to provide these products but in most cases, the number of pads supplied is so less than one pad is sometimes used for the entire day. Such unhygienic practices can lead to increased risk of cervical cancer. Besides this, sanitary pads are also non-biodegradable.

To solve this problem, in recent times products like cloth pads and menstrual cups have come up. These are supposed to be affordable as well as eco-friendly. For instance, a menstrual cup can be used repeatedly for several years in contrast to disposable pads.

The way forward

Undoubtedly, there is a great need to promote greater discussion on menstrual health. In recent times, movies like 'Padman' have tried to address the issue. However such efforts are only likely to touch the urban population. To touch the vast rural masses, programmes can be conducted at the level of Panchayats. A certain change in the curriculum can also be brought about to address these issues. States like Goa have already moved ahead in this direction.

Besides this, as already mentioned, there is a possibility for innovation in this sector. The problems associated with the prevalent products need to be identified and products which can address the needs of women in a better manner need to be promoted.

There have been certain positives, no doubt, in recent times. For instance, the sale of sanitary products has increased by a lot. At least two-thirds of women in urban areas use these products as pointed out by the National Family Health Survey 2016. However, the challenge remains the vast masses in the rural areas. Promotion of gender equality needs active inclusion of rural women as well.


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