This article is written by Oishiki Bansal, a student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida. The article elucidates the role of the Indian judiciary and the government in recent times to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene management. 


The 2018 film, Padman, of Akshay Kumar, stirred conversation about a topic that has always been considered taboo in India. It acted as a catalyst for major reforms relating to women’s health and most importantly it threw light towards menstrual hygiene. For ages, the natural process of menstruation that is just a component that helps sustain life on this mother earth has been neglected. Girls are forced to use unhygienic means such as clothes, sawdust, etc. during their menstruation weeks. Economically disadvantaged and backward-class girls have been trapped in the cycle of period poverty, a period in which women are unable to afford menstrual hygiene products due to a lack of financial support.

According to a 2018 UNICEF report on Menstrual Hygiene Management (hereinafter, MHM) in South Asian schools, India has the most adolescents in the world, with half of them female. With the growth of the female adolescent population, there is a growing need to spread awareness about MHM. Economic deprivation and illiteracy increase the prevalence of unsanitary and unhealthy practices, which has serious health consequences; increases obstinacy, and eventually leads to school dropout. This curtails the right to education provided by the constitution.

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Awareness about menstrual hygiene and right to education for adolescent females : a need 

Menstruation in India has always been a neglected topic involving myths and taboos resulting in a lack of awareness. Many girls around the age of 10-18 years in India drop out of school because they don’t have access to menstrual hygiene facilities. Poor financial conditions, lack of resources, and considering menstruating girls as filthy have contributed majorly to this situation. 

Neglection of menstrual issues has deprived many girls of accessing their fundamental Right to Education and even the Right to Life. This contributes to the increase in illiterate population in our country, mistreatment of girls, etc. Females in rural and backward areas of the country face most of the problems related to menstrual health and access to resources. 

The UNICEF report of 2018 reveals that  52% of female adolescents are unaware of menstruation before menarche. More than half of the mothers consider menstruation as “dirty” accentuating the taboos, most of the girls miss school during their menstruation week because of inappropriate sanitation facilities. The ignorance of this natural cycle has been a major hurdle in empowering women and enabling them to benefit under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 that provides free education to children till 14 years of age. 

Initiatives taken by the Indian government to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene 

Through these years the Indian government has tried to focus on improving “period poverty” by implementing various schemes and programs under MHM. The key components of  MHM services are as follows:

  • MHM – friendly WASH facilities – WASH stands for water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. It aims to create proper sanitation facilities segregated for both genders and with better accessibility to water, safety, and hygiene facilities. 
  • Accurate, pragmatic, and age-appropriate information – includes using textbooks or open discussions to create awareness about menarche.   
  • Social support  – includes providing moral support to girls and spreading knowledge to other sectors of the population so that menstruating girls are not treated as outcasts.
  • Resources and their effective disposal – include easy availability of resources to the females and proper disposal facilities. 

Some key initiatives of government   

  • SABLA program – launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development it aims to promote awareness and service health, hygiene, nutrition, and reproductive and sexual health. 
  • The National Rural Livelihood Mission of the Ministry of Rural Development aims to support self-help groups and small manufacturers to produce sanitary pads at an effective cost. 
  • Swachh Vidyalaya – under the Swachh Bharat Mission aims to provide sanitation facilities at government schools.
  • Shuchi scheme or menstrual hygiene scheme – launched by the ministry of health and family welfare aims to provide packs of sanitary napkins to girls in rural areas at a minimum price with safe disposal and raise awareness about menstruation. 
  • Kishori Shakti Yojana – also an initiative of ministry women and child development targets to improve health, nutrition, and development status of adolescent girls. 
  • Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha – an initiative by the ministry of education prioritizes sanitation infrastructure in schools to increase school retention.

Take of Indian judiciary into raising awareness about menstrual hygiene 

Recently the Karnataka High Court ordered the state government to implement such a scheme as Covid – 19 cannot be taken as an excuse to not implement the scheme for the previous two years. A division bench of Justice B.V Nagarathna and Justice J.M Khazi emphasized providing free sanitary napkins to the 17 lakh beneficiaries in Karnataka who are at risk of being denied access to formal education. 

Statistics show that almost 90% of the schools didn’t have soap and water facilities in the toilets. The High Court of Karnataka issued the directive to the government that the menstrual hygiene resources should be provided to the girls within the age group of 10-19 years. This is to ensure that the females in the rural areas could continue their education without any hindrance. 

The order was issued after a PIL was filed by the anti-corruption council in 2018 asking the state to specifically implement the Shuchi Scheme in the year 2021-22. The government responded by saying that they will procure around 2.04 crore sanitary napkins within 90 days and will be distributed to the girls at their homes if the schools are closed and in case the schools are open then the distribution will take place from schools.

Shuchi scheme was launched in 2013 and was essentially a centre-based scheme but in 2015 it was decentralized with the aim to spread awareness, provide products, and safe disposal of menstrual hygiene products. 

The Court also focused on providing separate sanitation facilities in the school making it safe and hygienic for the girls. A similar view was given by the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir in the case of Court On Its Own Motion v. Government of India and Ors.(2020) emphasizing menstrual hygiene and providing access to menstrual hygiene products to girls. The Court was directed to read issues related to menstrual health with relation to the Right to Life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

While discussing the issue of menstrual hygiene the Coram also discussed the insurmountable difficulties faced by the girls of poor background curtailing their Right to Education under Article 21A and also free and compulsory education under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009

The Court stated various landmark judgments by the Supreme Court such as Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration (2009) and Justice KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2018)  to support the view that reproductive rights come under the Right to Life and all the right to make choices relating to reproductive choices is women’s right to privacy.

Directives issued by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court 

  • Court ordered the Respondents to audit and present a report highlighting the issues and feasibility of the matters that were discussed by the court. 
  • Also, the report should state the steps in which the state decides to implement the MHM schemes as stated above. 
  • Further, the report should state the following –
  1. Availability of affordable menstrual hygiene products, either at subsidized prices or free of cost.
  2. Ensuring that a trained female teacher is available at school for disseminating knowledge about menstruation pre-menarche and also to provide support for menstruating girls in the school. 
  3. Plan of action for sensitization and education about menstruation and menstrual hygiene.
  4. A female teacher to be appointed as a nodal in-charge for the implementation of schemes stated above and to distribute sanitary napkins. 
  • Respondents must submit a report on adequate sanitary waste disposal mechanisms that take into account environmental concerns.
  • The Respondents shall file an affidavit detailing the programs in place concerning the issues, as well as the budgetary outlay for the same, and the manner in which the schemes are implemented.

Call for a change 

In the past, many judgments by different high courts have issued directives for raising awareness about MHM and improving the conditions of the women’s health sector with an aim to provide better opportunities. The new directives by the Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir High Court have once again tried to remind us of the importance of improving the menstrual health facilities for girls and women. India being the fastest developing nation needs equal manpower and literate youth to grow more. Menstruation should not be one of the reasons that hinder India’s growth. 

There is a need to focus on women’s health in the rural areas and provide them with resources that are necessary for the growth and development of adolescent girls. It’s time for the taboos and myths related to menstruation to be busted and it should not be considered as “filthy” anymore.  Girls should not be treated as an outcast during their menstruation week. The famous case of Sabarimala temple was how menstruating women were treated as an outcast and were not allowed to enter the temple. 

Various schemes have been implemented by the government for the welfare of the female sector in society but effective and efficient implementation is the key for the actual development.


The directive issued by the Karnataka High Court to implement Shuchi Scheme in “letter and spirit” has again stirred the drive for promoting women’s health as a key issue. The impact of unawareness about menstruation and no access to menstrual hygiene products contribute towards rising illiteracy among the female population. The directives by both the high courts will lead to more initiatives by the respective states as well as other states resulting in better healthcare facilities and making menstruation no longer a taboo topic. 


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