One out of every five girls in rural India leaves school after getting her first period. This is a direct consequence of social stigma, shame, isolation and poor access to safe menstrual products and disposal facilities.
In fact, after ‘domestic chores’, which are the biggest reason for girls missing school, periods and the lack of menstrual amenities like pads, toilets for girls and disposal of menstrual products are also key reasons for the high dropout rate of girls in secondary schools.
These were some of the findings that triggered a new campaign by the activist British beauty brand The Body Shop, which has tied up with the Indian nonprofit organisation CRY – Child Rights and You to raise awareness about periods, period shame and its impact on India’s girls and women.
The four-month campaign aims to normalise the conversation around periods and raise funds towards menstrual health and education.
The lack of menstrual amenities in India is no small matter: 88 percent of menstruating women here use unsanitary materials like dried leaves, ash, wood shavings, old fabric/rags, or even newspapers to absorb menstrual discharge. This leads to reproductive tract infections, which is why menstrual hygiene is recognised by the UN as a key global health issue.
Yet with the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation has only worsened with even more restricted access to safe period products, menstrual health awareness and education. As a result, menstrual vulnerability has increased sharply and so has the gender health gap.
The Body Shop’s new campaign featuring Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor aims to create an inclusive and long-term change on ground by including all genders in the conversation and working with CRY to bring about long-term attitudinal changes in disadvantaged communities.
“Most Indian girls feel uncomfortable in talking about periods openly and this leads to lack of awareness of menstrual health in women. I request you all to make a pledge, donate what you can and help create real change by ending period shame together,” urges Shraddha.
The plan is to create heightened communication to normalise conversations around menstruation aimed at all genders; raise a minimum amount of INR 1.2 million to support the cause; and collect “digital pledges” from customers to propel personal action, such as “I pledge to tell a male family member about periods and have open conversations with everyone at home” and “I pledge to be honest about my period experiences and use the word ‘period’ with my friends instead of confusing code words.”
“With our core focus on feminism and female empowerment, there is no denying that the pandemic has worsened the already critical issue of period shame and menstrual access,” says Shriti Malhotra, CEO of The Body Shop India, adding, “Shame-free periods, safe menstrual products and accurate menstrual education is not a women’s cause – it is a human cause.”
Through this initiative, The Body Shop and CRY are aiming to provide menstrual health awareness, education and free menstrual products to over 10,000 people across 4,500 households. This campaign directly benefits underprivileged girls and women from slum communities in Delhi/NCR where access to menstrual health and products have been hit severely by the pandemic.
Puja Marwaha, CEO, Child Rights and You (CRY), says, “National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) data indicates that only 57 percent of adolescent girls between 15-19 years are blessed with any hygienic form of protection during their menstrual cycles. We intend to create social awareness about menstrual hygiene, and at the same time, attempt to amplify voices demanding the access to free and quality sanitary napkins, safe disposal mechanisms, functional toilets and regular awareness sessions on menstrual hygiene.”