Period Poverty is Real! Scotland Has Made Sanitary Pads Free. Is It Feasible in India?


Period Poverty is Real! Scotland Has Made Sanitary Pads Free. Is It Feasible in India?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Scotland will not be the last country to consign period poverty to history but we have the chance to be the first,” Monica Lennon, the Member of Scottish Parliament who introduced the Period Products Bill in the country, hoped for before the Parliament, in a landmark victory, unanimously voted in favour of the bill on Tuesday.

By allowing legal access to sanitary products in all public spaces, including community centres, pharmacies among others across the country, Scotland is leading the global movement against period poverty – where women are unable to afford menstrual products –with pride. It is the first country in the world to make sanitary pads and tampons free and the move is commendable.

While the initiative intends to make basic menstrual hygiene products accessible to all, it also promotes good sanitation and hygiene and is a progressive step toward empowerment. Scotland has been campaigning for this cause for a while now. In 2018, it became the first country to provide free sanitary products in all schools and universities.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter to welcome this “groundbreaking legislation”.

Women across the world have hailed the move.

Back home, however, the reality of period poverty is rather grim.

As per a Nielsen Survey in 2010, 70 per cent of Indian women did not have access to sanitary pads.

Over the decade, the situation has not improved much. According to a survey conducted by Menstrual Health Alliance of India and WaterAid India, 62 per cent of the respondents stated that they did not have access to menstrual hygiene products through regular outlets under the lockdown. To make it worse, 22 per cent said they did not have access to sanitary products at all.

In a country where period is a taboo even in 2020, menstruating women are always given the shorter end of the stick. “Millions of women and girls from economically disadvantaged sections of the society are finding it difficult to manage their periods safely, hygienically and with dignity,” Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative, affirmed on the occasion of Menstrual Hygiene Day earlier this year.

And India doesn’t seem to be doing enough. In 2018, the country scrapped tax on sanitary pads after much controversy. A report in Youth Ki Awaaz points out, “After the 12% GST has been removed, a pack of 10 sanitary napkins that costs an average of 100 rupees, will cost around 88 rupees. This might be a woman’s monthly expenditure on her menstruation needs. However, considering 70% (Census, 2011) of India’s population live in rural areas and depend on manual labour, 75% of whom survive on 33 rupees per day, the amount of 88 rupees for a packet of sanitary napkins remains very high.”

Scotland’s historic decision has made Indian women wonder if this is something they can expect of the country.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to make sanitary pads available at a nominal cost. Last year, the government slashed the price of Suvidha sanitary napkins that are sold at Janaushadhi Kendras from ₹2.5 to just ₹1 per piece but often supply does not meet demand. The Haryana government in August launched a scheme to give a packet of free sanitary napkins to about 22.50 lakh women and girls below the poverty line every month for a year.

But is this enough to deal with India’s problem of period poverty?