To boost female health and hygiene in rural India, the Union government is working on a scheme to provide women living below poverty line (BPL) with free sanitary napkins.
The scheme, which will eventually supply “highly subsidised” sanitary napkins to women above the poverty line, is likely to be rolled out gradually, in three to six months from now. Once fully implemented, the scheme may touch the lives of 20 crore women.
Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Saturday that the government intended to take care of the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescent girls through a community-led programme for behaviour change by promoting the use of sanitary napkins.
In the absence of affordable sanitary napkins, poor women are forced to use rags during menstrual cycle. Public health experts say this practice, and the resultant poor hygiene, are one of the reasons for the high incidence of reproductive tract infections in India.
Ministry officials told The Hindu that the government was working on various models, including public-private partnership, to ensure that sanitary napkins were supplied free of cost to girls of BPL families, and at highly subsidised rates for others.
The scheme has to be sustainable, with provisions for disposal, a major problem in urban areas. Several meetings have been held to give a final shape to the scheme, which will cover 200 million rural women, each using 100 sanitary napkins a year.
The Tamil Nadu government has been running a scheme in some districts, where girl schools have sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators. The napkins can either be bought or are provided free of cost to poor girls.
The scheme is being implemented in collaboration with the UNICEF, non-governmental organisations and corporate houses. Haryana has also launched a similar scheme in some rural areas.
Going by the expense involved — providing up to 200 million women with 100 sanitary napkins a year will cost the government a minimum of Rs.2,000 crore assuming a cost price of one rupee per napkin — the government is looking at the possibility of roping in sponsors, and of implementing the scheme in phases. The Centre also plans to use this huge subsidised demand to create low-cost supplies.
“India has to learn to look after its girls better, if it pursues its inclusive agenda of social development.”
Spandan Samaj Sewa, a Khandwa-based NGO, says the scheme will receive tremendous response. Prakash Michael of the Sewa, which makes sanitary napkins from old clothes and supplies them to women in the district, says rural women were willing to spend up to Rs.3 a napkin, while those in urban slums are willing to pay up Rs.5, as they know the importance of hygiene in their lives.
He says the only issue is the high cost of transport of the napkins, which are being made elsewhere.
“The government has the option of using public transport, which will further bring down the cost.”