The Ministry of Rural Development has written to all states, asking them to include special sanitation needs of women as part of their agenda.
This comes a year after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared inclusion of ‘menstrual hygiene management’ in the country’s sanitation policy.
A two-day meeting of secretaries that begins on December 17 will discuss state plans and put gender at the centre of the sanitation agenda.
“Many of the reasons for [school] dropouts relate to the state of sanitation in the rural areas and we have several plans in the pipeline to fix them,” said J.S. Mathur, joint secretary, Ministry of Rural Development who is in charge of sanitation. “If we have been able to increase the coverage of total sanitation from 54 per cent to 62 per cent in one year, we can strive to achieve this too.”
The letter has asked states to look at ways in which they could get gender sensitive by providing sanitary napkins free of charge, providing incinerators to take care of the sanitary waster, making sure every school has toilets, and to make sure that there are separate toilets for girls.
“We are also trying to get case studies from different states where they have done experiments with women’s self-help groups producing low cost sanitary napkins,” said Mathur.
“We need a two-pronged approach: disseminate information about usage of napkins and produce napkins by self-help groups. Today, raw material used for producing napkins invites a 12 per cent value-added tax making it an expensive venture,” said Dr R. Sujatha coordinator of Shri Cheema Foundation, a community services wing of TVS Electronics which was reportedly the first to produce low-cost sanitary napkins in 2006 at a rural school in Tamil Nadu.