No Menstrual Hygiene For Indian Women Holds Economy Back | Source: Natasha Khan & Ketaki Gokhale, Bloomberg – Jul 24, 2013
Sushma Devi, a mother of three in Northern India, stores her “moon cup” on the window sill of the mud-brick veranda that shelters the family goats.
In a village where few have indoor toilets and the Hindi word for her genitals is a profanity, 30-year-old Sushma struggles to talk about how she manages her period and the changes brought by the bell-shaped device she inserts in her vagina to collect menstrual blood.
“It’s a thing from hell,” she says of the malleable, silicone cup, which she received from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research group. “I have to keep it far from the house, from where I pray.”
Across the world’s largest democracy, where a decade of economic growth nearing 8 percent a year has tripled per-capita income, millions of women are held back by shame around their most basic sanitary needs.
Teenage girls and young women are encouraged to go to school and enter the workforce, yet have little access to the infrastructure and products — separate bathrooms, sanitary pads — that will help them succeed. Taboos around sexual health reflect a level of discomfort with the female body that affects women’s contribution to the economy and marks India as the third-worst nation in Asia for gender inequality.
“When our periods start, it becomes much harder,” explains Sushma, who wears a faded floral-patterned sari with silver toe rings and colorful glass bangles jangling on her arms. She was 15 years old when her mother showed her how to use fabric torn from discarded saris to handle her monthly period.