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Promotion of menstrual hygiene in Kashmir goes slack

The Indian government’s plan to promote menstrual hygiene among the adolescent girls of Indian-administered Kashmir had gone slack as subsidized sanitary napkins simply remain undistributed. Peerzada Arshad Hamid reports.

Srinagar, March 29, 2012:

Initiated in November 2011, the Indian government’s scheme to provide subsidized sanitary napkins to adolescent girls in rural areas is yet to begin in Jammu division, while as in Kashmir the major portion of the supplied stocks are lying undistributed.

It was supposed to cover 10 districts - Baramulla, Bandipora, Kupwara, Kathua, Udhampur, Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban.

“The scheme has been initiated to increase awareness among adolescent girls about menstrual hygiene and increase accessibility of high quality sanitary napkins at affordable cost, especially for girls in rural areas,” said Dr Yashpal Sharma, the Mission Director of India’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in Indian administered Kashmir.

According to officials, the girls and women in the age group 10 -19 in these districts were supposed to get a pack of six sanitary napkins for INR 6.

“In the three districts of Kashmir valley, the scheme has been started but for Jammu, it will be started soon,” said Dr. Manoj Bhagat, facilitator NRHM posted in Jammu. “Since we have dispatched the supplies to Kashmir, the volunteers have sold some of it.”

Records maintained by NRHM suggest that only a meagre portion of the supplied stock – 13 per cent - has been sold, while as 87 per cent is lying undistributed in the godowns.

As per available data, in three districts of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara, 6, 52,800 sanitary napkins were supplied, of which only 83976 napkins were sold.

The promotion of menstrual hygiene was aimed at countering reproductive tract infections among the young women in rural areas.

“Of the supplied stock, a major portion is lying undistributed though six months have passed, this speaks about the seriousness of officials involved in this programme,” said a senior official posted in district Bandipora asking not to be named.

“There is a need to raise awareness among the target group and then keep the material available for distribution.”

Doctors say chances of reproductive tract infections are usually high in the rural areas, owing to the poor menstrual hygiene.

Health experts say that lack of awareness and affordable sanitary napkins forces poor and rural women to use rags instead. Doctors says practice results in poor hygiene and thus responsible for high incidence of reproductive tract infections.

Authorities finding it difficult to raise these issues in conservative Kashmir society are contemplating new ways and means to sell out the remaining stocks.

NRHM officials said services of 1647 female volunteers are being sought in three districts of Kashmir for the implementation of this programme.

These volunteers known as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) get a commission of INR 1 on the sale of each pack.

“In these three districts we have trained 1574 female volunteers under menstrual hygiene,” said Bhagat.

“Soon we are going to supply stocks to districts of Jammu and after successful completion of first phase other districts would be brought under this programme.”

Officials are also contemplating to engage teachers of girls' schools and female Panchs (village body members) in the targeted districts to boost the scheme.

In the conservative society of Indian administered Kashmir, menstruation and menstrual practices are not discussed openly. The situation is somewhat similar in Indian states.

Women activists say the inhibitions surrounding the menstruation issues in society prevents girls and women from articulating their needs and therefore problems of poor menstrual hygiene management have been ignored or misunderstood.

Experts say that on average, a woman, from age 12 to 40, spends approximately 2,100 days menstruating which is equivalent to almost six years of her life.

According to a recent survey "Sanitary Protection: Every Woman's Health Right", undertaken by AC Nielsen in India, only 12 percent of India's 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins.

The study found over 88 percent of women resort to shocking alternatives like un-sanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand. Incidents of reproductive tract infections were found 70 percent more common among these women.

The survey found around 70 percent of women in India saying their families cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins.

Naseema Akther, an officer with Social Welfare department in Anantnag district links limited access to safe sanitary products and facilities to the dropout rate in girls’ schools.

“Poor menstrual hygiene is believed to be the reason for ill-health among young females that often results in low attendance at girls’ schools, ultimately contributing to dropout rates,” said Akther.

The NRHM scheme to promote menstrual hygiene in rural areas is being implemented in India’s 152 districts.

A right wing nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in Indian administered Kashmir has alleged bungling in NRHM funds.

The party has demanded India's premier intelligence agency - Central Bureau of India (CBI) should carry out a probe into utilization of funds under NRHM in the state.




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