Difficult for females living in rural areas to afford sanitary pads
Bangladesh is yet to ensure menstrual hygiene and without an integrated plan it has nurtured the crisis to prolong, experts said.
Lack of strategy and loopholes in ensuring accountability are to be blamed for the delay.
However, the LGRD Ministry said they have taken charge of formulating a strategy that would solve the leadership and accountability issues and lead the task in a certain direction.
Legal frameworks and government activities
National Education Policy 2010, Health Policy 2011, Bangladesh Population Policy , National Nutrition Policy 2015, Gender Equity Action Plan 2014-2024, Health Sector Support Project and National Strategy for Adolescent Health 2017-2030, have menstrual management, reproductive health issues, and gender equality in its policies.
However, interestingly, very few had elaborated what and how the menstrual hygiene management should be implemented.
The National Strategy For Adolescent Health 2017-2030 mentioned almost nothing about the issue.
In recent years following the advocacy of several NGOs and INGOs, the government has started taking several measures including distribution of sanitary pads.
In 2009, Bangladesh government initiated separate toilets for boys and girls in schools to facilitate menstrual hygiene facilities.
In June 2015, a circular from the Ministry of Education was published emphasizing on safe, clean sanitation systems and separate toilets in schools. It was targeted that schools will have one toilet for every 50 students.
Also, chapters on menstrual hygiene management in school textbooks were added.
Dr Mohammed Sharif, director (MCH-Services) and line director (MC-RAH) of Directorate General of Family Planning (DGFP), said as menstrual hygiene is a very important issue they have initiated distributing sanitary pads from union levels in 3,884 mother and child healthcare facilities in a limited scale.
The Covid-19 outbreak has prevented them from implementing their plans to distribute sanitary pads through schools, he added.
Last year, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) exempted supplementary duty (SD) on raw-material imports of sanitary pads and diapers to protect the local industries.
Kazi Ashraf Uddin, additional secretary of Local Government Division, said to bring the working plan into a coordinated effort,and a formulation of activities of a strategy is going on that is expected to be completed soon after returning to normalcy.
Where is it going wrong?
Mahbuba Haque Kumkum, program manager of Ritu project, Simavi, said: “In 2016 we came to learn that most of the schools did not know about the Education ministry circulation on menstrual hygiene.”
Later they started working with more than 100 schools in Netrokona and managed some schools to provide sanitary pads to female students.
“A similar situation was found in some other places in the country where schools were distributing sanitary pads with assistance from NGOs or INGOs,” Mahbuba said.
“Implementing it properly is still a challenge for school authorities,” she further said.
Mahbuba, Dr Abu Sayed Hasan, program specialist- SRH at United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and WaterAid Country Director Hasin Jahan all raised the issue of the price of sanitary pads.
It is quite difficult for females living in rural areas to afford sanitary pads, they said.
Hasin said: “WaterAid’s strong advocacy had resulted in the exemption of supplementary duty (SD) last year on raw-material imports.
“But the poor girls and women could not reap the benefit of it as the local industries denied lowering the price citing other taxes and duties in place.”
Sayed said: “Like other food products that were counted as essentials, taxes and duties should be lowered to make sanitary pads available to the masses.
“Local companies should also be sensitive towards women’s needs and a system should be established to bring them into accountability.
“As there is no designated authority and working strategy in the country, health matters like menstrual hygiene remains a big challenge.”
“There is no one to hold accountable for the failure in ensuring menstrual hygiene,” Hasin added.
Following the advocacy from MHM Platform, the government in 2018 initiated to formulate a national strategy in 2018.
But the work took an active turn early this year with a push from UNICEF, the UN body that is also financing the work.
Working committee formed
National Consultant of Policy Support Branch (PSB) SM Moniruzzaman said a working committee with 15 members has been formed where members from the public health department, Education Ministry, Health Ministry and development partners were included.
Later, a technical committee formed a base of the strategy draft.
Before finalizing the draft the technical committee was supposed to interview concerned stakeholders like garment owners’ association, members of industries where females are working, and so on to give the final shape of the draft, Moniruzzaman added.
“We targeted to publish the draft copy for further opinion on May 28 this year. But Covid-19 has made our plan complicated,” the consultant said.