Research by Dr Garikipati identifies that the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) policy in India, which focuses on subsidising disposable pads for women, denies them the right to informed choice and is ecologically and financially unsustainable. It also demonstrates that despite willingness among women across the socio-economic spectrum to adopt sustainable menstrual products – policy and market concur to challenge behavioural change to sustainable alternatives. Using these findings, Dr Garikipati is working with key stakeholders in the sector, including the UN, WaterAid, Municipal Councils and the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, to shape a multipronged national advocacy strategy for change in MHM policy. The main objective is to facilitate the introduction of informed choice and sustainability as core tenets of the MHM policy.
Menstrual-hygiene is closely associated with gender equality and female empowerment through its direct influence on women’s reproductive health, education and labour participation. This brings it to the forefront of international development concerns represented in several interconnected Sustainable Development Goals. The increased advocacy of this issue by international organizations has resulted in a number of programmes initiated to popularise the use of sanitary pads among women in developing countries. These policies mainly focus on awareness building and subsidizing the use of disposable sanitary pads. India’s MHM policy is no exception.
Drawing on two projects carried out at Liverpool between 2016 and 2019, Dr Garikipati’s research directly challenges this policy focus. It demonstrates that the inadvertent consequences of India’s MHM policy are denying girls and women the right to informed choice and imposing an unsustainable ecological and financial burden on MHM budgets. Dr Garikipati’s work demonstrates that while the policy push of disposal pads has helped popularize the use of sanitary pads among women – with less than 2% women reporting knowledge of menstrual products other than cloth and disposable pads – there are serious concerns around lack of information available to women on alternatives. There are also emerging concerns around sustainability both in terms of increased ecological burden on fragile sanitation systems and in terms of commercial viability. Dr Garikipati’s research indicate that in some slums even with just 50% of women shifting to sanitary pads, the burden of additional waste disposal has become unsustainable. Wet waste disposable systems across much of India are non-existent and in several places waste sifting is still done by human hands. Long-term subsidies have also made the MHM policy commercially unviable.
Dr Garikipati is pursuing a multipronged advocacy strategy in an effort to bring about changes in India’s MHM policy for better focus on informed choice and sustainability. So far, her work with an international MHM advocacy consortium has led the Government of India to initiate a consultation on setting industry standards for reusable pads. A stakeholder meeting was carried out in September 2018 and a report will be submitted to the government with recommendations for standards for reusable products and it is expected that these standards come into effect by late 2019. Her efforts have also led to changes in MHM practices at two national organizations. Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) and Safa have committed to including awareness on alternatives to pads in their educational projects for young girls and vulnerable women. This has also led to demonstrable behavioural change among the cohort of women they work with and it is estimated to have impacted over 25,000 women so far.
Dr Garikipati continues to systematically influence MHM issues in specific states and will also continue to lobby the central government. Dr Garikipati is also developing a policy brief with WaterAid on informed choice which was launched on May 28th – the world MH day. She has also initiated a collaboration with municipal authorities in the state of Telangana on developing training material for sanitation workers on menstrual waste disposal which will impact thousands of households.
Dr Supriya Garikipati
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