• The Sikkim government is set to announce a scheme (Bahini) to install vending machines to provide free sanitary pads.
  • This is the first time that a state government has taken a decision to cover all girls studying in Classes 9-12.

Purpose of the Scheme

  • It aims at providing “100% access to free and safe sanitary pads to secondary and senior secondary school going girls”.
  • It is also aimed to curb dropout of girls from schools and raise awareness about menstrual hygiene.
  • The scheme is based on an experiment the state government initiated in 2018, in collaboration with Sulabh International, where vending machines were installed in some schools.
  • Sulabh International is an India-based social service organization that works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education.

State of Menstrual Health in India

  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16, India has over 355 million menstruating women.
  • However, only 36% of women were reported as using sanitary napkins, locally or commercially produced.
  • The percentage of women using menstrual products did improve significantly across the country, especially in Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, West Bengal and Bihar, as estimated in the first phase of the recently released NFHS-5.
  • Despite this, menstrual health remains a low-priority issue in India marred with taboos, shame, misinformation, and poor access to sanitation facilities and menstrual products.


  • Societal restrictions during menstruation violate women’s right to health, equality and privacy.
  • Several anecdotes reveal that women and girls are kept in isolation, not allowed to enter religious places or kitchens, play outside or even go to schools during menstruation.
  • A survey conducted under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) in 2018-19 reported that more than one-fourth of total girls enrolled in class VI-VIII drop out of school as soon as they hit puberty.
  • The experience of menstruation for young girls is even more difficult due to inconsistent access to education on menstrual health and puberty.
  • Many employers see menstruating women as a problem as they associate periods with inefficiency in work and reduced participation in the workforce.
  • There are anecdotal examples of corporate workplaces showing insensitivity towards menstruating women fearing loss of productivity.

Way Forward

The need of the hour is to focus on a strategy that converges key departments in the government — health, education, women and child development and rural development among others — and improves accountability towards issues related to menstrual health management.


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