Menstruation is still considered taboo in Indian society. Even today, the cultural and social influences on people create a major hurdle in ensuring that adolescent girls are given proper knowledge on menstrual hygiene. Mothers are also reluctant to talk about this topic with their daughters and many of them lack scientific knowledge on puberty and menstruation. The main reasons for this taboo still being relevant in Indian society are the high rate of illiteracy especially in girls, poverty, and lack of awareness about menstrual health and hygiene. Only less than 18% of Indian women use sanitary pads. India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products in 2018 after months of campaigning by activists. Campaigners had argued that menstrual hygiene products were not a luxury and periods were not a choice that a woman could simply opt-out of. However, tax exemption is only a small step towards a much longer journey of making menstrual health and hygiene an accessible reality for every woman in the country.
The recent publication of Actual Market Research- India Feminine Hygiene Market Outlook, 2020-26, provides a detailed look at the market, divided into the categories of Sanitary Napkins, Tampons, Panty Liners, and Menstrual Cup, others like intimate cleansers, disposable razors, and blades. The sanitary napkins segment accounted for the largest share of feminine hygiene products. Sanitary napkins take nearly more than 600 years to decompose. For rural areas, low-cost sanitary napkins are not an answer to the myriad problems they face in menstrual management. It is because this is a taboo topic ruled by religion-cultural conventions that rural women face not only discomfort but also problems linked to reproductive health.
Girls and women have very less or no knowledge about reproductive tract infections caused due to ignorance of personal hygiene during menstruation time. In rural areas, women do not have access to sanitary products or they know very little about the types and methods of using them or are unable to afford such products due to high costs. So, they mostly rely on reusable cloth pads which they wash and use again. The spending on sanitary napkins is inversely proportionate to the usage of pads.
Though there has been a marked improvement in awareness. A report by the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development, funded by ICMR, found that the awareness of adolescent girls about menstruation till its onset had gone up from 29.4%in 2007 to 72.6% in 2012, while knowledge on washing and reusing cloth had gone up from 57.6 to 82.5%. There were no recent figures available. The ICMR is currently conducting a study to find cost-effective menstrual hygiene solutions for schoolgirls, like the use of biodegradable sanitary napkins or reusable menstrual cups.
But with a surge in the use of social media in recent years, women have begun sharing their menstruation stories too. Yet this freedom is often questioned and those sharing their stories are threatened with bans, while trolls who indulge in moral policing and shaming women go scot-free.