Preference of Cloth Over Pad: A lingering problem in Rural India

Preference of Cloth Over Pad: A lingering problem in Rural India

Do you remember that scene from the recent movie PadMan where the character played by Radhika Apte was hiding her dirty blood botched cloth pieces under her saree to dry out? Most of us have squirmed at the thought while others have empathized with rural women and the unhygienic condition they live in. However, this is not just any film but a true story that was adapted to make an awareness film.  Think about it! The film is based on the life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham in the late 90’s. He made a revolutionary invention for which he got rebuked even by his wife. It has been twenty years hence but still, the condition hasn’t changed in most parts of rural India.  

Do you know that a recent finding has released the report that 62% of young women aged between 15-24 years still use rags and cloth during their period days rather than disposable pads? As per the report, as many as 82% of women in Bihar and 81% of women in UP and Chhattisgarh also use cloth during the menstrual cycle.   


There have been multiple interviews taken of women from rural areas on how they manage their flow during periods. The answers that have been revealed are nothing less than shocking.

A certain woman said, “I use it once, then wash it. Then I burn it."

Whereas in another such interview some other woman had been even more economical, “After I've washed it, I stuff it inside the almirah. Once it's dried, the same cloth waits out its 28-30 days, until it's fished out again, from the back of the almirah."

Some women have also claimed that cloth absorbs blood flow better than pads. But they have never used pads to know about its advantage.


Why cloth during periods is unhygienic?

The reason that rural women use cloth over sanitary pads is a lack of education and money. And they cease to believe that cloth is unhygienic. Women are also not allowed to dry the cloth in sunlight or in the open due to some unreasonable taboos. These rags gradually find a place in a damp nook or corner for drying out before a further use.

Since these clothes don’t get proper sunlight, they are highly susceptible to infections. Blood in warm and moist climates favors the growth of microbes that lead to genital infections. Medical studies have established a direct correlation between urogenital infection and bacterial vaginosis and women using cloth are at an increased risk of such infection than women using disposable pads.

There is also an inadequate supply of water in rural areas that restrict women from cleaning the clothes properly. On an average, a woman will need 5-8 cloth pads per period cycle and about 5 mugs of water are needed to wash and rinse a single cloth pad. However, since enough water is not available, the clothes remain soiled that lead to future health diseases that can even hold a life risk.


The period is still considered a taboo and this social issue is hardly spoken about that acts as a roadblock in incorporating changes in the society. A lot of counseling sessions and campaigns are being held in every rural area by NGOs and social service organizations that speak of the importance of using disposable pads. The government has also taken an initiative to supply pads to young women for free. But the number of pads given hardly compensates the whole menstrual cycle. It is better to spare a few bucks and buy sanitary napkins rather than risking life.

Social workers are trying their level best to raise awareness among rural women but they seem to be ineffectual as the period is still considered a taboo in certain areas. 

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