Jamie Rosenberg
Jamie Rosenberg is Global Household & Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, exploring trends and new business opportunities in household, beauty and personal care categories.

In one of our recent blogs ‘What’s being done about the period poverty?’ our expert analyst looked at how period poverty is a growing social issue in the UK. In fact, the lack of access to sanitary protection products is a problem for a large number of young women not only in the UK, but all over the world.

In India, only a fraction of women use commercial sanitary protection products with cost being a key barrier. More importantly, there is still a strong social as well as religious stigma surrounding menstruation which further fuels this access gap. In some cases, especially in rural areas, a girl on her period faces restrictions such as not being allowed to enter religious shrines or the kitchen; sometimes, they are even asked to sleep in a separate room.

There is a need to reduce this social stigma as well as find out ways to reduce cost and increase distribution and accessibility for sanitary protection.

Initiatives rolled out to educate the masses

In India, the stigma around menstruation still prevents women from accessing sanitary protection products, getting an education and fully participating in the labour force. There have been many grassroots programmes implemented by various organisations to address India’s practice of menstrual shaming, as well as to ensure affordability of sanitary protection products.

One example is the Twitter campaign launched by SheSays India under the hashtag #lahukalagaan, meaning ‘tax on blood’. It was triggered when tax was levied on sanitary pads in India. The campaign sought to urge politicians to make sanitary pads more accessible to the majority of the female population in India who still use makeshift products to manage their periods. Bollywood is also taking on the stigma with the movie Pad Man which helped to broaden the conversation around menstruation. The film was inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist who invented a machine to produce low-cost pads.

Measures taken by the Indian government

Earlier this year, in an effort to make healthcare available at affordable prices, the Indian government launched a programme that offers low-cost pads for just 2.50 rupees each; less than one-third of the typical price of a sanitary pad in India. The scheme targets school girls and rural women who have less access to these products.

The pads are sold under the Suvidha brand, which in English, loosely translates to ‘convenience’. Suvidha pads are distinguished not only by their low price but also by being one of the very few Indian sanitary protection brands that are 100% natural and completely biodegradable. The launch of Suvidha showcases how manufacturers can partner with the public sector to grow the feminine care category when market mechanisms fall short.

Mintel Trend ‘Serving the Underserved’ shows how times are changing to bring power to historically disenfranchised members of society. In India, sanitary protection is one arena where the underserved are raising their collective voice for a better life.

Unilever realised that to expand its market share in India, it needed to reach consumers in 160,000 remote villages where there is no retail infrastructure. In 2001, the company launched Project Shakti, a micro-enterprise programme where 72,000 women distribute Unilever products, often on foot or bicycle, to these remote areas. This model translates well to sanitary protection distribution since it not only gets the product to the people but improves the lives of the communities involved. Other global sanitary protection brands can take a cue and leverage this social momentum if their products can address the gap.