The UP Government has taken one major step towards promoting hygiene, cleanliness and safety of girls and women in the state. The Government has decided to install sanitary napkin vending machines in public spaces to make these easily available to adolescent girls and women.
A decision to this effect was reached at a recent meeting held between the officials of UNICEF and UPSRTC. “Actually this is a proposal given by the UNICEF, which we liked immensely. Though a formal agreement is yet to be signed, we have given them a go ahead to begin the work,” says UPSRTC chairman Pravir Kumar.
As per the understanding reached between the two organizations, the UPSRTC will provide space, electricity connection and Wi-Fi facility while the vending machine will be provided by the UNICEF. Corporate major Hindustan Latex Limited has been roped in to provide the sanitary napkins and replenish the supplies from time to time in these vending machines.
To begin with 250 vending machines for sanitary napkins will be installed at 70 bus stands, in the state. Travelling women can easily procure a sanitary napkin from these vending machines and need not look out for chemist shops that usually sell these products. “We have many bus stands that are have enough space and are equipped with other civic amenities like toilets with water facilities,” says Kumar.
Initially the vending machines will be coin based, but later these will be linked to Aadhar Card. A person just has to insert her Aadhar Card and the machine will pop out the napkin. “The idea is to check the misuse. One Aadhar Card will be able to draw out the napkin once in 20 days only. We will request the corporate to associate with us under their CSR initiatives so that the napkins are provided free of cost to girls/women. The software for the purpose is presently being prepared,” says Kumar.
“The biggest barrier to using a sanitary napkin is its affordability. Being costly, several families can’t afford these and that’s why we plan to provide these for free,” says Kumar.
The UPSRTC is planning to have these machines installed by July 11, 2016, the World Population Day.
This is a pilot project, and depending upon its success the UPSRTC will implement it in the entire state. “Once it achieves the required success rate, we will approach the National Health Mission to partner us,” he adds.
“It’s indeed a very good step in the right direction. The vending machines will remove the human interface between the product and its user giving a lot of comfort to women, especially those belonging to rural areas who shy away from buying such products,” says Jyotsna Batra, a social worker belonging to Noida.
“Though a necessity for every female post adolescent age, a sanitary napkin is an unaffordable luxury for countless poor,” says Batra. “And the lack of it also one of the key obstacles to regular school attendance among adolescent girls. Girls drop out of school once they reach puberty. I feel the Government should speed up the work and also have these machines near residential colonies as it will majorly check the school drop-out rate among girls,” she adds.
Several studies in the past have revealed that inadequate menstrual protection makes adolescent girls (age group 12-18 years) miss five days of school in a month, which makes it 50 days a year. Shockingly, around 23% of these girls actually drop out of school after they started menstruating.
Gynecologists opine that a menstruating woman should not only bathe more than twice a day but also change sanitary towels four times a day. Unhygienic practices lead to increasing infections with bacteria entering the urinary tract or uterus from outside. They also feel that use of sanitary napkins not only just reduces the incidence of reproductive tract diseases but it also minimizes the risk of cervical cancer.
According to a study done by AC Nielson in 2010, only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins, the rest resort to shocking alternatives like unsanitised cloth, ashes and husk sand. And incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) is 70% more common among the women who do not use sanitary napkins.