Unsanitary pad-vending machines leaves college students stranded during emergencies.
Colleges have not yet installed sanitary napkin vending machines along with incinerators as required by the University Grants Commission (UGC). This leaves students on campuses with limited access to pads.
“During emergencies, it gets really stressful to find a sanitary pad in college campus if our friends don’t have any,” said Priyal, a college student from Bangalore. It is more convenient to go home to get pads, as it is difficult to find a pad in college, she added. Along with college campuses, students do not have access to sanitary napkins in hostels as well, said Akanksha, a college student. “The washrooms are not in good condition and in addition to that, I had to wait for 40 minutes once to get a sanitary pad,” she said. In such situations, friends usually provide sanitary pads if they have, she added.
Sanitary napkin vending machines are necessary in educational institutions especially in situations where students are going through reproductive health problems such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or irregular menstrual cycles, , said Nirmala Nayak, President of World of Women, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that works to promote healthy menstrual hygiene. “Emergency can happen for anyone at any time and one must have access to pads for this reason without having to feel odd about it,” she added.
Some students have resorted to stocking up sanitary napkins before their period starts. “We start buying sanitary napkins in bulk even if we feel vaguely threatened. Sanitary napkin vending machines are a luxury,” said Sonal, a post-graduate student.
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the UGC recommended all universities to install such machines and eco-friendly incinerators in their campus and women hostels in 2017. This was to ensure proper disposal of menstrual waste and create awareness for a bio-degradable alternative. Additionally, the National Commission for Women (NCW) requested the education department in a letter to install sanitary napkin vending machines within the premises of all schools and universities across the country.
Machines that have been installed by some colleges are not functioning properly or are left unused. “Sanitary napkin vending machines are not installed in a few blocks in our college and some of them are not working. Others are available in the utility cupboards which are locked,” said Pranita Murthy, a college student.
Dr. H. Prakash, principal of a government college maintained that the college provides free sanitary napkins to its students. Additionally, washrooms also have a sanitary napkin vending machine and an incinerator to dispose of sanitary waste, he said. They also collaborate with Bruhat Bengaluru MahanagaraPalike (BBMP) for disposal of such waste. However, Anusha, a second-year student from the college said that she does not get access to sanitary pads from the vending machine.
Students and educational institutions need to ensure that awareness is spread about proper disposal of menstrual waste, said Rashmi T N, a gynecologist. “If a student cannot dispose the pad properly and continues to wear it for a long time, it is very unhygienic,” she added. Additionally, if the machines give plastic pads that are of low quality, they may cause irritation or some vaginal infection, she said. Moreover, if sanitary napkins are not disposed of properly, it could take up to 800 years to decompose a single sanitary napkin, according to a report by the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India.
However, use of incinerators has been stopped due to machines emitting smoke which was hazardous , said Anand, administration officer of a private college. They have also tied up with BBMP for disposal of waste. “We don’t have sanitary napkin vending machines right now but we are planning to implement it soon,” he said.