The future of menstrual hygiene management with the emerging water crisis in India

By: Suhani

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) by UNICEF is defined as ”Women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials.”

Image credits: Mr Gaurav Bhosle

Now, the question which arises here is that are these the typical standards of menstrual hygiene management in India? No, this is far from reality. Many people in India still lack access to toilets, clean water and any kind of menstrual hygiene products, let alone the sustainable ones.

Will the impending water crisis aggravate the situation? Definitely.

Disposable pads and the mammoth waste management problem associated with them.

 The commercial disposable sanitary napkins are made of 90% plastic and whats more is that a single pad can take roughly 500 to 800 years to decompose! Many women tend to dispose of the sanitary pads along with domestic garbage which later ends up in the landfills forming part of the plastic waste choking the environment. The estimated number of pads disposed of is up to 12 billion!

WASH is an acronym for water, sanitation and hygiene. These are essential for a menstruator, the importance of water cannot be stressed enough. But in a country like India where as many as 63.4 million Indians don’t have access to clean water managing hygiene can be extremely difficult. To aggravate the situation, in arid areas, owing to the patriarchal nature of the society women have to walk 5 to 20 km to fetch water.

Aren’t there any sustainable and environment-friendly menstrual hygiene products out there?

Yes, there are many such products. The two main contenders in this field are menstrual cup which can last up to 5-10years and reusable cloth pads. They are a much cheaper alternative to disposables.

Menstruation, in particular, makes the need for clean water, sanitation and hygiene crucial. Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in such situations may be a matter of life and death.

Dermatitis, urinary tract infections, which can be fatal if the kidney is damaged, genital tract infection, bacterial vaginosis, all contributing to increased susceptibility to cervical cancer, can be common consequences of unhealthy menstruation management.

Initiatives to promote sustainable period products

Although there is no organized public campaign to educate women about sustainable alternatives. The menstrual cup initiative by the Kerala government is especially noteworthy. The Thinkal project, launched in 2019, has distributed 5,000 free menstrual cups to women from the municipality of Alappuzha. The idea arose out of the destruction caused by floods in 2018, where women faced a huge problem with the disposal of their sanitary pads in the relief camps.

Menstruation and menstrual activities still face numerous social, cultural, and religious barriers that are a significant challenge to the management of menstrual hygiene. For an issue that is so essential for development, it keeps getting swept under the rug as though it is meant to be “hidden” from the penetrative gaze of the society.

Given the increasing water scarcity and the waste load of non-biodegradable menstrual products, India has a time bomb that needs immediate attention.” Be the change” switch to sustainable period hygiene products. Each menstruator can save the planet from 125 kgs of waste.

(The article is shared by @ClimateFrontIndia)



Suhani is a 16-year-old Feminist, Environmental enthusiast and Climate front India Volunteer

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