Mumbai: If the first two years of the NDA government were all about its flagship Swachh Bharat programme, the focus seems to have shifted in recent months toward menstrual hygiene management. In February, minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi launched the social media campaign #YesIBleed. A few days later, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis launched the Asmita Yojana scheme, which provides rural women with sanitary napkins at subsidized prices.

In the lead-up to World Menstrual Awareness Day on 28 May, minister of electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted a photo of himself on 20 May at a sanitary pad manufacturing unit in Uttar Pradesh set up by village women, as part of his ministry’s Stree Swabhiman initiative.

Another indication of how menstrual hygiene has become a cause célèbre: at the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the only Indian NGO in a list of seven chosen by the couple for donations was the Mumbai-based Myna Mahila Foundation, which offers low-cost sanitary pads to women in slums and provides jobs to women who manufacture and sell pads.

“There are different initiatives being implemented by several government departments to address different components of menstrual hygiene management but more co-ordination is needed. Departments like water, public health, sanitation, women and child development are addressing the issue. But a lot more needs to be done," Versova legislator Bharati Lavekar, who set up India’s first sanitary pad bank, told Mint.

A Mumbai hoarding on MLA Lavekar’s sanitary pad bank. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
A Mumbai hoarding on MLA Lavekar’s sanitary pad bank. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The February release of Akshay Kumar starrer Padman—based on the real-life story of low-cost sanitary pad machine inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham—has helped bring the conversation into the mainstream.

“Bringing out a movie like Padman was a very bold step by Akshay Kumar, and it has definitely been a major factor of change," said social entrepreneur Amar Tulsiyan who will be launching the Niine Movement, a five-year plan aimed at raising awareness about the issue, at an event in New Delhi on Monday. “The... use of sanitary napkins in the last year has increased by 25%, so there is awareness being created by the government and by social activists."

“We need to talk about menstruation so much that it becomes normal to discuss in public," added Surbhi Singh, who runs the Delhi-based NGO Sachi Saheli. “If we are to make any progress, we will need a lot more Akshay Kumars to come out and take bold steps."

Abhiram Ghadyalpatil contributed to this story.

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