Vijayawada/Hyderabad: In most parts of the country, menstruation is considered a taboo subject, and discussions about it are avoided. Poverty and harmful traditions can turn menstruation into a time of deprivation and stigma, leading to another common misconception that women and girls have diminished capacities, whether physical or emotional, due to their menstrual cycles. These ideas can create barriers to opportunities, reinforcing gender inequality. In truth, most women and girls do not have their abilities hindered in any way by menstruation, the lack of the right products and guidance contributes majorly to women and girls being held back when experiencing their period. To tackle this stigma, prioritise female personal hygiene and encourage a healthy dialogue of information, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy launched the ‘Swechha’ programme. Swechha’ (meaning freedom) is intended to ensure affordable access to health and menstrual hygiene in adolescent girls and women.
Under the initiative, the State Government will provide good quality branded sanitary napkins to female students at government educational institutions free of cost. Ten sanitary napkins will be given every month to about 10 lakh adolescent girls studying from 7th-12th grades in all government schools and intermediate colleges across the state at a financial outlay of INR 32 Crores. A total of 120 napkins per year is allotted to every female student, even during summer vacations, the students will be supplied with their quota before they leave school. The free branded sanitary products being supplied are a result of the state government entering MOUs with corporate conglomerates like P&G and Niine Pvt Ltd, the brands being supplied in government schools are Whisper and Niine. Additionally, through the MOUs signed, Sanitary napkins will be sold at YSR Cheyutha retail stores at lowered prices to around one crore women residing in both rural and urban areas. Each school will have a female educator appointed as a Nodal Officer to help the female students with sanitary napkins supply, safe methods of disposal, and any assistance the students may require. Further for a safer and environment-friendly way of disposal, the state government has set up 6,417 incinerators across the state through the Clean Andhra Pradesh (CLAP) initiative.
A report from the United Nations Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council estimated that 23 per cent of girls in India drop out of school due to lack of menstruation products, inadequate surroundings to change sanitary napkins, lack of running water, and absence of disposal facilities. The State Government, through initiatives like Swechha, Mana Badi Nadu-Nedu, is making proactive steps in ensuring that the female student population continues to receive an education by providing all the aforementioned facilities required to empower and retain their students. Restroom facilities for girls with uninterrupted water supply are being built in 56,703 government schools, hostels, and educational institutions are set to be completed by July 2023. The construction of separate restrooms in 15,715 schools has already been completed.
As part of a monthly orientation programme, Nodal Officers, ANMs and Mahila Police will gather at the local Sachivalayam to educate and create awareness amongst female students studying between Classes 7th-12th.
The Chief Minister said, “We are a government that strongly believes that the power to change history lies with the women in our State. Let us help them move forward.”