Vending Machine Lets Indian Girls Buy Sanitary Pads Without Shame

Women and girls are often too embarrassed to buy pads at stores because of the stigma surrounding menstruation.

Menstruation is still considered a humiliating experience in India, but a new line of vending machines hopes to at least minimize it.

On Wednesday, Janana hospital in Ajmer unveiled a vending machine that dispenses sanitary pads. It’s the first of about 70 such machines that will be set up throughout the district in jails, bus stops, colleges and schools, the Times of India reported.

Such an innovation is critical for women and girls in India who are often too embarrassed to purchase menstrual hygiene products in the open or who can’t afford the product.

In India, about 70 percent of women can’t afford sanitary pads, according to a 2011 report. They often use such unhygienic alternatives as dirty cloths, ashes and husk sand.

When Manju Baluni, an Indian activist, was growing up, she was forced to use old, cut up bed sheets when she had her period, she told the BBC India.

The new vending machines will charge 10 Indian rupees (about 15 cents) for three sanitary pads.

The other issue the devices address is the fact that menstruation still carries a pervasive stigma.

When a woman has her period, for example, she’s barred from religious institutions. She also can’t handle certain foods, such as a pickled vegetable, due to the belief that a menstruating woman could spoil it with her touch.

Because of these taboos, women and girls are often reluctant to buy sanitary pads in stores that are typically crowded with men, according to the Times.

Making sanitary pads more readily available is key to ensuring the health and well-being of women and girls, experts say.

Using effective sanitary pads can reduce the risk of developing reproductive tract infections, and having pads on hand can also help improve school attendance.

According to the 2011 study, adolescent girls missed an average of 50 school days a year due to not having proper resources for their periods. And 23 percent of girls in India drop out altogether once they start menstruating.

"The biggest problem was managing it. It still is,” Margdarshi, a teen who lives in a remote village in Uttarakashi, told the BBC in 2014. “I feel embarrassed, angry and very dirty. I stopped going to school initially."

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