One Solution to Keeping India’s Girls in School: Cheap Maxi Pads
In many stores across India, shopkeepers wrap maxi pads in black polythene. If they don’t have that, the products go in a small carton or brown paper bag. Absent those, “we try hiding it while walking down the road because of how people would react,” says Khushboo Navani, a 23-year-old woman who lives in Bikaner. “People give you weird looks,” she adds.
Menstruation is still considered a taboo in India. Lack of accessible and affordable menstrual products, coupled with the shame and silence surrounding them, contributes to millions of girls in India missing school after puberty, according to research conducted for UNICEF in 2015. The survey estimated that 1.9 million girls leave school during their periods each month.
In December 2015, India became one of the few countries to issue menstrual hygiene management guidelines under its Clean India Campaign. Since then, several hundred sanitary napkin vending machines have been installed across the country—in schools, colleges, jails, police stations, bus stands, railway stations, hospitals, and other public places.
Some 70 machines have been installed in the city of Ajmer; 30 more are in Chandigarh, and there are several in Nagpur, Mumbai, Amritsar, Assam, Dehradun, Lucknow, Punjab, and Nagaland, among others. They are funded and installed by the government and local municipal corporations, NGOs, and philanthropists, educational institutes, and private corporations. Installation costs vary from about Rs. 20,000 (about $299 USD) to Rs 45,000 ($673 USD), depending on location and the company. The machines dispense packets containing three pads, which go for Rs 10 ($0.15 USD). From a cost perspective, they’re self-sustaining, because the money collected can then be used to restock the supply.
- Health Care