‘Sanitary napkins are available in most local stores, but because they are expensive, villagers cannot afford them’.

New Delhi: Rakhi is a Class 8 student who resides in a small village close to Nangur, Chhattisgarh. Because of her physical limitations, she is inefficient to carry out manual tasks. She carries out all of her work (writing, holding a spoon, and so on) using her legs. Due to her physical limitation, she has trouble getting admission to hostels because she can’t use her hands and needs someone else to help her during her menstruation. Rakhi is currently concerned that she will have to stop studying because she won’t be able to live in the hostel and her village is far from her school.
Stories like these are very common in the rural areas of Chhattisgarh, where many girl students must leave school because of menstruation. These small children continue to struggle to complete their education even as the world advances with new developments in science and technology. Most education during the pandemic was moved online, which seemed to be a blessing for students like Rakhi, but as things are returning to normal, she is once again experiencing discrimination because of her physical disability.
Children in Bastar had a high dropout rate during the pandemic, but now, more boys than girls attend school. Menstruation has been cited as a significant problem by a number of young girls in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. “Though there are sanitary vending machines in the schools, the sanitary napkins are of poor quality, so the majority of the kids either skip school for a few days or use clothes. Purchasing a sanitary napkin is expensive, and cheap sanitary products often come with poor quality,” said Mhafuza Hussain, the director of Aarfa Welfare Foundation told The Sunday Guardian.
Along with school dropouts, several tribal women do not visit doctors in case they get infections and the topic is a big taboo. Several areas of Bastar have blind beliefs of untouchability during menstruation and tribal women are still using leaves, ashes, or clothes during their menstruation cycle; they are asked to stay in some secluded corners outside their houses. During menstruation, women are asked not to enter the kitchen or touch the water used in the kitchen or for other household items or she is not allowed to touch anyone due to unhealthy hygiene practices.
A social worker from Chhattisgarh named Karamjeet Kaur is still educating women in the Bastar region about proper menstrual hygiene. She goes to the Haat Bazaar with her team and distributes sanitary napkins to women. She has covered Tokapal Lohandiguda and a few blocks of Bastar. “The majority of schoolchildren want to use sanitary napkins, but most of the girls are discouraged from doing so because there aren’t any high-quality sanitary napkins available. Sometimes the vending machines are completely dysfunctional, and sometimes there are no sanitary napkins available in the vending machines. Additionally, sanitary napkins are available in most local stores, but because they are expensive, the villagers cannot afford them,” Karamjeet told this paper.
“Most of the women are also not comfortable talking about the menstruation irregularity and do not seek doctor’s help in case they need it. Also, in case they get an infection they do not realise it and continue to live like that. Sometimes, men also do not take these into consideration and protest if anyone tries to educate women in the villages” she added.
As per several reports, when it comes to paid work, boys are more likely than girls to have left school in favour of a paid profession. Increasing dropouts amongst school children have also led to increasing child marriages in rural areas of Bastar. Unfortunately, despite several efforts taken by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, approximately 23 million girls leave school each year due to a lack of access to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) facilities. It is clear a significant, all-encompassing, culturally sensitive educational program on menstruation will raise girls’ knowledge and awareness as well as that of their families, schools, and communities. Such programs will reduce the number of girl students dropping out of school. Additionally, having access to enough sanitary facilities and supplies will help in increasing the attendance of girls in rural schools.