COVID-19: Rural UP girls wait for schools to reopen to get sanitary napkins

With schools that distributed sanitary napkins shut, girls have gone back to using cloth 

By Jigyasa Mishra
Published: Thursday 30 April 2020
Representative image: Young girls talk about menstrual hygiene with an International Women Polytechnic fellow. Source: Flickr

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent nationwide lockdown have left several without basic essentials, particularly in rural areas. Access to one such essential commodity for women — sanitary napkins — has been hit hard in the rural pockets of Uttar Pradesh.

“My school used to distribute sanitary napkins to girl students. But it is closed now. So I have been using a cloth. I did the same last month as well,” said Manisha Prajapati, a Class VI student in Uttar Pradesh’s Satna district.

Manisha is the oldest among the four siblings. While her father works as an auto-driver, her mother is a home-maker.

In 2015, the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav introduced ‘Kishori Suraksha Yojna’ to provide free sanitary napkins in all the upper primary, secondary and senior secondary schools of the state. The scheme benefits female students from class VI to XII.

Under the scheme, every girl student is entitled to get 13 packets containing 10 pads every year. The lockdown, however, has meant most young girls cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins and have gone back to unhygienic alternatives.

The situation is no different in UP’s other districts.

 “Our teacher used to give us sanitary napkins every month in school. Before that, my sister and I used clothes and washed it before re-using. We are doing the same now,” said Priya Verma, a class VII student of a Lucknow school.

She added that they did not dry the washed cloth as they “could not let it dry in the open.”

At least 62 per cent women aged between 15 and 24 years still use cloth for menstrual protection, according to a National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-16. About 81 per cent such women use cloth during their periods in Uttar Pradesh.

But the stigma attached to menstruation health refuses to budge, at least in the rural parts of the state.

Another concern that is often overlooked is the cloth fabric used. Most girls said they make do with any fabric available at home.

“We use cotton, but that is not always possible. If a cloth piece is not useful anymore, we use it,” said Priya. 

The mismanagement was due to sudden closure of schools, according to Dinesh Kumar, Basic Siksha Adhikari, Lucknow.

“We have distributed sanitary pads to the needy with help of administration in Lucknow Janpad by ‘sakhi vans’ which distributed sanitary napkins and hand sanitisers to women. Since everything happened so quickly, we could not make a plan to distribute the napkins in stock to school girls,” he said.

The Lucknow Municipal Corporation and state administration arranged sakhi vans to distribute soaps, sanitisers and sanitary napkins to the under-privileged residents in the city after lockdown 2.0 was announced. However, this was limited to the state capital and only urban poor could benefit from it. 

Priya is now waiting for the school to reopen. “We want to go back to our normal days,” she said. 

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