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CSR Taking on a Taboo!

Enough talk is centered around the victorious and dynamic shift of CSR from philanthropy to long term sustainable interventions, engineered to help society develop and flourish. India as a nation has one of the most evolved CSR laws that are strictly adhered to. Tremendous good has been achieved by several corporations in the societies they serve. However, there are certain so called “controversial” societal issues that need to be tackled. One such controversial topic is menstrual health & hygiene.

Menstrual hygiene awareness or discussion is considered a taboo in the majority of India and not discussed in most households. This topic is so much of a taboo that in certain parts of rural India, girls are banished to the far end of villages during the onset of their menses and allowed to return only once it’s over.

Most mothers shy away from educating or preparing their daughters about their first period. In addition, schools do little to thoroughly equip one on safe and hygienic menstrual practices, apart from sex education and biology classes.

Sadly, this leads to many women being uninformed of the multiple hygienic products (disposable pads, re-usable cloth pads, menstrual cups) available in the market, and this can cause sometimes fatal reproductive tract infections.

A survey conducted by the National Family and Health in 2017, highlighted that only 57.6% of young women aged between 15 and 24 used a hygienic method of protection during menstruation. Which roughly translates to 42.4% of women using unhygienic methods of protection or perhaps no protection at all.

Across Rural India, especially, due to poor access to basic sanitary products and use of unhygienic substitutes such infections are rampant and severely debilitating. Many rural women opt for straw, dried leaves or even ash due to lack of access to hygienic menstrual products. This also directly translates to increased girl school dropout rate.

Studies indicate that a shocking 30% girls drop out of school upon reaching puberty.

And if that wasn’t enough, knowledge on undergarments and access to them is also limited. How is a woman or an adolescent girl to use a hygiene product if the basic undergarment isn’t there?

Women Health & Hygiene Management – A Critical Set Up

The government is committed to providing necessary support to states and union territories for improving outcomes related to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). For FY 2019-20, Rs 64.61 crore has been allocated through the MHM to 14 states/UTs for decentralized procurement of sanitary napkins.

Menstrual Hygiene Management consists of multi-layered challenges that cannot be managed by simply making hygienic products accessible to women. It should also ensure safe usage of products and access to menstrual waste disposal facilities.

The environmental footprint of disposable napkins poses a major health hazard too. With the massive generation of menstruation waste, inventing environmentally friendly ways of disposing menstrual hygiene products is vital. Women roughly use 10,000+ pads on an average per year .

The gargantuan task of providing MHM facilities to around 253 million adolescents across India cannot be achieved only by government initiatives. It has to be a multi-disciplinary collaboration of state governments, educators, NGOs backed by CSR funds. A CSR intervention of this kind also draws light on our public health services.

The Scene Changes District to District and Region to Region Across India

One needs to follow a methodical and area-specific approach, rather than a generic one, while creating awareness among schoolgirls and young women. Women from rural areas will have a different set of needs than those from the urban area.

Battling Ignorance with Awareness and Compassion

While menstrual hygiene is an absolute necessity in order to empower girls to live a healthy and dignified life, educating boys about women’s health is equally important. Boys need to understand how to give precedence to this when they grow up to be adults. Men generally tend to ignore ‘women troubles’ pretending that they have nothing to do with it and this has to change; from school children to male politicians levying tax on menstrual hygiene products, as if getting your periods was a ‘choice’ to be made and accessing pads a ‘luxury’ to have.

CSR to the Rescue!

CSR backed projects based on these issues envision increasing awareness among adolescent girls and boys on changes occurring during puberty and providing knowledge and information on personal hygiene in the forthcoming years.

SustainPlus, as an enterprise focused on identifying and implementing projects that serve the triple bottom-line, we are proud to having worked closely with some great firms and corporates that want to change this taboo laden narrative. Apart from generating awareness around reproductive health and hygiene these programs also create an adequate support system and provide knowledge to parents, teachers and staff.

There is a famous quote I came across recently –

If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.

So, lets give the adolescent girl a fighting chance and stay on school undeterred by natural bodily functions.

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