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68 pc rural women cannot afford sanitary napkins

Mumbai: About 68 per cent rural women cannot afford sanitary napkins available in the market, according to a survey.

The study, carried out by global information and measurement company AC Nielsen, and reviewed and endorsed by NGO Plan India, throws light on the dismal state of feminine hygiene care in India.

According to gynaecologists, use of alternative sanitary care measures such as unsterilised cloths, sand and ash make women susceptible to infections and diseases.

The study found that awareness on basic health and feminine hygiene is very low, with 75 per cent rural women lacking adequate knowledge on menstrual hygiene and care.

On the issue of affordability of quality sanitary care, the survey found that 81 per cent rural women use unsterilised cloths since they are cheaper and 68 per cent said they cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins.

Adolescent girls in rural India are unable to attend up to 50 days of schooling in a year due to inadequate menstrual care, the report said.

The nationwide survey was conducted in October on a sample size of 1,033 rural women and 151 gynaecologists.

97 per cent gynaecologists surveyed believe that sanitary napkins can act as a preventive measure against reproductive tract infection, while 64 per cent noted that it can act as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Poor financial condition does not allow majority of the women to buy quality sanitary napkins, the survey said, adding of cloth users, 45 per cent reuse cloth and 70 per cent dry them in shade, increasing chances of infections.

Research shows Reproductive Tract Infection was 70 per cent more common among those with unhygienic sanitary practices.

Of the 355 million menstruating women in India, only 12 per cent use sanitary napkins. The figure is abysmal, compared to countries like China, where majority of women use sanitary napkins, the survey maintained.

They cope with sub-optimal alternatives like cloth, sand, husk and even ash, which have severe consequences on health, education and reproductivity, it said.

"Menstruation is a subject that has culturally been considered a taboo and is entrenched with misconceptions and disregard, with little cognisance of the hazards of inadequate menstrual protection. The survey has highlighted how the subject of feminine hygiene is grossly neglected at all levels," Plan India executive director Bhagyashri Dengle said.

The survey said among the adolescent rural girls, 23 per cent (aged 12-18 years) discontinue studies due to inadequate sanitary facilities in schools.

East India emerged as the region where the state of feminine hygiene is significantly poorer. Among women who use cloth, over 70 per cent in East said they feel insecure during periods and wished they knew more on the subject.

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