In current Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs in schools across India, a large focus has been placed on education and products for menstruation. In many regions around the world, a number of cultural taboos exist that are related to this particular female developmental process, creating challenges for water and sanitation organizations and businesses. Girls often drop out of school due to a lack of private facilities and various health issues associated with using unsanitary cloths. But at the Bhupatinagar Kanya school in West Bengal, Headmistress Mrs. Banashree Manna Das was delighted to share a success story.
During one of many visits to the school, Mr. Chandan Das, a local hygiene educator from a partnering organization, discovered that all the school’s sanitary boxes were locked, so girls had to ask for the key from a teacher to get what they needed. Recent reports indicate that up to 90 percent of rural adolescent girls in India use cloth during menstruation, and are shy about asking for sanitary napkins, even from a female teacher. To meet this challenge, Water For People created a pilot program in select girls’ high schools for a vending machine that dispenses sanitary napkins and a burner that disposes of them.
Over the past year, the school has constructed a sanitation facility for girls with complete privacy, a handwashing station, and enough toilets for its female and male students (separate of course). In addition, they have implemented hygiene education and health-awareness camps. “All of my students are very disciplined — they use water to flush, and never waste water,” says Mrs. Das.
Regular visits to Bhupatinagar Kanya school by a Water For People India employee found the school continuously in good order. Because of this, the school was selected to pilot the automatic sanitary napkin vending machine and auto-electric burner. Both the headmistress and the students were excited about this opportunity and ready to take on the added responsibility to make it a success.
Ankita Bhuniya, a student and active member of the school’s Water and Sanitation Committee, shyly told Water For People, “We only place a coin and get a napkin. We are very happy to get such a facility in our school. Now, I use only sanitary napkins, no more cloth. I also suggested it to my many friends who still have a taboo of not using sanitary napkins. Seeing the user-friendliness, zero dependency on teachers, we all only use sanitary napkins.”
The headmistress says a bigger response from the students has yet to be seen. Previously, the average usage of sanitary napkins was three to four packets a month. Since the vending machine was installed, that number has more than doubled. Mrs. Das says the main attraction is the user-friendliness of the machine: just drop a coin and come away with a sanitary napkin. Disposal is also easy — just open the cover of the burner, put the napkin in, and press the button.
“Now my students never skip their classes during those critical days,” Mrs. Das says, remembering a time before the pilot program launched, when students would just stand silently before her in class, and she had to learn that they wanted to go home while they were on their periods.
“Now having such a facility in our school, no one skips class for their menstrual period,” she says. “During regular monitoring visits, a local government official came to our school and was very impressed to see this facility. I will recommend to my colleagues in other schools to have such facilities. Big thanks to Water For People on behalf of my students for picking our school for this pilot.”
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Cover image c/o Water for People