A pilot project in Bihar and Jharkhand is under way to promote health and hygiene practices among adolescent girls

Many girls miss school and gradually drop out as they enter adolescence, primarily due to a lack of knowledge and access to amenities to ensure proper health and hygiene. Similarly, many women suffer from infections due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene, resulting in poor health, adding to their healthcare burden and resulting in loss of wages as they have to remain absent from work.

“We believe it is time to change this. The movement is our endeavour for a healthy, hygienic life which we believe is the right of every girl and woman,” says Grace Castano, chairman, Asia Pacific, Johnson & Johnson, manufacturers of Stayfree sanitary napkins.

The movement is a partnership between the government, UNICEF and Johnson & Johnson to raise funds to promote health and hygiene practices among adolescent girls, which is expected to benefit over five lakh girls in the next three years.

The pilot project is to be implemented in Vaisahli and Nalanda districts of Bihar and East Singhbhum and Gumla in Jharkhand on the basis of certain enabling criteria. The governments' SABLA programme (Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls) is being implemented in Vaishali and Gumla while the Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH) programme is being implemented in Nalanda and Singhbhum districts. In addition, the other enabling factors include the presence of functional self help groups, civil society organisations and adolescent groups.

From every napkin sold, a part of the proceeds will go to UNICEF for six months from April to support the pilot programme.

Menstrual hygiene is limited in rural India. Menstruation is stigmatised and contributes to gender inequalities in rural society. Although a natural process, it is linked with several misconceptions and practices which result in adverse social and health outcomes. Majority of adolescent girls are unaware of menstruation and how to deal with it.

Only two per cent of girls in rural India use sanitary napkins, instead they use cloth which is washed in water and often stored in humid conditions (so that it is not seen by others) resulting in repeated infections.

Sanitary napkins are mostly not available in rural areas and companies do not supply because of absence of demand.