India's progressive palm-laden southern state of Kerala, under the leadership of Communist Party of India-Marxist, CPI-M, is set to install sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators in all its schools beginning in June.
As part of the state government's "She Pad" program, an estimated US$4.6 million has been set aside to install the vending machines in nearly 1,845 higher secondary schools, which includes both private and government sectors.
In India, according to government statistics, a meager 12 percent of 355 million girls and women on their period have access to hygiene products.
Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala's chief minister, made the announcement onThursday. “Every woman has a right to menstrual hygiene. The government's ‘She Pad’ scheme is aimed to distribute healthy and clean sanitary pads to all school students across the state. An eco-friendly disposal system and distilleries for used pads will be distributed as part of the scheme."
"The project is being implemented with the support of local self-government institutions under the leadership of the State Women Development Corporation, KSWDC," Vijayan said in a statement.
VC Bindu, KSWDC managing director, told the Times of India, "Subsidized high-quality sanitary napkins will be distributed to the 16 lakh adolescent girls of 7,000 schools across 14 districts in Kerala."
In a country where a staggering 200 million girls lack awareness of menstrual hygiene and associated health care practices, the move can be instrumental in setting an example.
A majority of girls on their period in rural India feel uncomfortable going to school, fearing public shaming due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. Many between the ages of 12 and 18 miss five days of school in a month and 23 percent even drop out of school after they start menstruating.
“You need toilets during your period, you need to change your soiled pad with dignity, privacy, you cannot be seen,” said Isha Ray, associate professor at UC Berkeley, in a 2016 TEDx talk about gender equality. “What kind of right to education denies the girl a right to manage her menstruation with dignity.”
Around 63 million adolescent girls in India live in homes without toilet facilities, where access to safe sanitation facilities is already limited. And often times, the public facilities are not built keeping women’s privacy in mind, making them vulnerable and more susceptible to violence.
“(We need) social investment and that is the only way that we can achieve a bedrock of gender equality for millions of low-income girls and women around the world,” Ray added.
As part of the program, the state's education department has also directed all government, private, aided and unaided schools in the state to ensure clean drinking water and separate toilets for boys and girls.
Earlier in March, Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, installed vending machines in several public spaces across the city, like the washrooms in railway stations, bus stations, shopping complexes and some local government colleges.