Over 44% of women aged 15-24 years in Karnataka continue to use cloth for menstrual protection, according to the recently released NFHS-5 report. This is the highest among southern States followed by Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, at 40.2% and 36.2% respectively.
In terms of overall use of a hygienic method of menstrual protection, Karnataka ranks the lowest among southern States at 84.6%. Locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins, tampons and menstrual cups are considered to be hygienic methods of protection in the survey.
While 69.1% use sanitary napkins, 2.9% use tampons and 0.3% menstrual cups, 21.9% use locally prepared napkins in Karnataka.
In Puducherry, 99.1% of women aged 15-24 years use a hygienic method of protection. Puducherry is followed by Andaman (98.8%) and Nicobar Islands (98.4%). The lowest percentage of women using a hygienic method of menstrual protection is recorded in Bihar (59%), Madhya Pradesh (61%), and Meghalaya (65%)
Overall, although 77.6% of women use a hygienic method of protection in India, 49.6% continue to use cloth. While 64.4% use sanitary napkins, 15% use locally prepared napkins; 1.7% use tampons and 0.3% use menstrual cups in India.
While Uttar Pradesh (69.4%) and Assam (69.1%) have the highest percentage of women who continue to use cloth, Andaman and Nicobar Islands (8.2%) and Tamil Nadu have the lowest (12.7%).
Impact of schooling
The survey found that women with 12 or more years of schooling are more than twice as likely to be using a hygienic method as compared to women with no schooling (90% versus 44%).
“Women in the highest wealth quintile are almost twice as likely to use a hygienic method as women in the lowest wealth quintile (95% versus 54%). Compared to the 90% of urban women who use a hygienic method of menstrual protection, only 73% in rural areas use a hygienic method,” according to the report.
Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Hema Divakar said menstrual hygiene is not considered a priority in India. “Attempts at educating and empowering school girls will bring about a significant change in the next decade where we can expect a larger percentage to shift to sanitary pads, or better still, menstrual cups. Whilst the distribution of free or low-cost pads by the health mission encourages the use of sanitary pads in general, we should also be paying equal or even more attention to the disposal of used sanitary pads, which adds to environmental pollution,” said Dr. Divakar, who heads the Well Woman Health Care Committee at International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).
Manisha Singh, senior consultant (gynaecology) and sub-specialist in reproductive medicine and surgery at Fortis Hospital (Bannerghatta Road), said considering menstrual cups are the way of the future, the government must implement programmes to provide rural women with menstrual cups as well as adequate information on how to use and dispose them.
Shuchi scheme yet to resume
Over 19 lakh school and college girls in Karnataka are waiting for resumption of the Shuchi scheme. The menstrual hygiene project for distribution of sanitary napkins was stopped in 2020 due to lack of funds.
The scheme, started in 2013-2014, was initially a Centrally-sponsored one. However, the Centre asked States to take over the scheme from 2015-2016. The scheme was aimed at instilling awareness about menstrual hygiene, even among girls in rural areas.
V. Veena, deputy director, Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK), who is in charge of the Shuchi scheme, said ₹49 crore had been set aside in this year’s budget. “We have started the tendering process and procurement will begin soon,” she said.