A fight against period poverty

Yeay ! So finally it’s a Friday, the only day we have a Physical Education (PE) period where we get to play & have fun .

Oops, I forgot to introduce myself while I was getting excited . Hi, I’m Ria 6th grade student &.. Ohoo! The bell rang and it’s our math class. I should rush because my math teacher is very strict.

What’s with this headache & cramps? isn’t letting me to concentrate. (seeing her ritu)

Ritu : Hey Ria, are you okay ?

Ria  : No Ritu, I have a slight headache & cramps.

Ritu : Is it that time of the month for you ?

Ria  : oh no ! I’m afraid it is .

(Seeing Ria & Ritu disturbing the class, teacher gets angry and asks Ria to leave the classroom. While she is on the way to leave the class, teacher  happen to see a stain on her skirt. Feeling guilty for shouting at Ria teacher leaves the class to talk to her.)

Teacher : Ria

Ria : I’m sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to disturb the class.

Teacher : I know, why don’t you go to the washroom looks like you got your period today?

Ria :  (sobbing) ma’am I forgot to get my cloth.

Teacher : Oh dear, why cloth? Do you feel comfortable using them?

Ria : Because my mom asked me to do so. But it is not at all comfortable & gives me rashes and irritation too

Teacher : I will talk to your mom about this but for now come with me.

 

We all have read a lot about period poverty and how women put their lives on threat by using unhygienic products during periods which may cause infections or reproductive health diseases. Ever wondered why does period poverty even exist?  A major section of society hesitates to talk about periods even today. Women are embarrassed to buy sanitary napkins from a male chemist or something that we experience in everyday life like chemists wrapping the packets of sanitary napkins while handing over to the customer. Students reluctant to talk with teachers about periods, and a majority of them drop out or remain absent when they start menstruating. With taboos and superstitions in different countries, even an open discussion in schools/ communities is impossible.

Period poverty is not only related to women, even men and transgenders form a part of wider society who needs to be informed. Well-informed masses will help remove stigma attached to menstruation. A lot of issues come under period poverty which need to be addressed. Many dedicated NGOs & social enterprises are diligently working towards overcoming this social issue. Fact is that every individual has to make an effort to overcome this issue and contribute towards an egalitarian society, ask why?  

 Globally, 1.2 billion women lack access to basic sanitation and hygiene as reported by the UN.
As per a report published by UNICEF and WaterAid, about 71% of girls in India are unaware about menstruation before their first period and about  60% of adolescent girls missed school on account of menstruation were 80% still use homemade pads.

There is an emerging need for government agencies to increase efforts to provide proper sanitation and actively participate to create awareness in menstrual hygiene. The government should also include menstrual hygiene management as a component in its health policy and device strategies to address this issue plaguing the country.

Following is a list of individual & groups working towards  better menstrual hygiene

1..Mukti Project
Two young women, Sarva Damani and Ayesha Alam, started Mukti Project to educate people about menstrual hygiene and also to help young girls continue their education. They realised that many female students were dropping out of school due to lack of knowledge on how to deal with menstruation. This led to the birth of Mukti Project, which has widened its scope of activity from only focusing on menstrual taboos to issues surrounding gender inequality and women’s safety in Mumbai.

2.Brinda Nagarajan

Brinda Nagarajan took time out from her job and trekked to some of Uttarakhand’s remotest villages to help the underprivileged. She would go to remote schools and speak to girls about menstruation. She has also conducted workshops to increase awareness about menstruation among locals. Although the women in these villages seemed amenable to change, they continued to use old cloths pads during their periods. Brinda set up a livelihood for these women. They were taught how to stitch sustainable and reusable cloth pads.

3.Menstrupedia

Started by Aditi Gupta, Menstrupedia a friendly guide to periods which helps females during their monthly cycles. The platform has made a great contribution by spreading awareness about menstruation. They also use a website, YouTube channel and comic book for the purpose

4.Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram.
An initiative by the government of India working for adolescent, who also take an active initiative in menstrual hygiene education.

5.Biswanath Chariali
At a time when the government has been spending crores of rupees to improve the overall health of the women of the country, a silent revolution is going on at Biswanath Chariali, that too, without any government help. This silent revolution is being led by Nayan Saikia, who had left a lucrative job at an ITC-owned star category hotel in Bengaluru for a noble cause – to create awareness among the poor rural women of Assam on cleanliness.

Then took loan to set up a sanitary pad machine. Nayan Saikia sells his napkins through rural women at villages at a very cheap rate. Parallely, he has been creating awareness among the village women on cleanliness because he believes that cleanliness leads to a healthy life. He holds awareness meetings in Assam, Kolkata and Delhi.

6.Pravin Nikam

Pravin Nikam is the founder of Roshni Foundation. He started the  period project, a campaign conducted to eliminate the taboo attached with menstruation. He aims to spread awareness among young girls and women regarding their menstrual health and hygiene as well as staying informed about their body and managing their periods effectively in rural India.

7.Maya Vishwakarma

She  decided to not only educate girls and women across tribal MP about the importance of safe menstrual health, but also to provide them safe and effective sanitary pads. Maya has set up a manufacturing unit whose innovative machine was built by engineering-management graduates Anurag and Birag Bohre from Gwalior. Her  target is to reach out to girls at 450-plus schools in 21 districts and educate them about the importance of safe menstrual health to make the entire trek a public movement.In the pipeline is another plan to find donors who can fund the mission to produce and distribute sanitary pads free of cost. For now, Maya who has earned the moniker of ‘Pad-jiji’ is helped by tribal women from Narsinghpur district in running the unit.

8.Goonj


Goonj, set up by Roman Magsaysay Award winner Anshu Gupta, focuses on creating change in rural India by contributing through cloth and other items. The NGO is making efforts to restore the dignity of the rural community. Their initiative ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’ addresses a serious need of women in villages by providing them with clean cloth sanitary pads.

9.Saral Designs

Founded by Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta, Saral Designs is a platform that solves problems related to menstruation, hygiene, and sanitation.  They have developed a machine for producing ultra-thin sanitary napkins at a decentralised scale. In 2012, Suhani learnt about the dismal state of menstrual hygiene in India while she met Anshu Gupta, Founder of Goonj. Till then, she hadn’t realised how rural women wouldn’t be able to afford sanitary pads due to their cost. She then teamed up with Kartik and explored ways to make low-cost sanitary napkin.

10.Sacchi Saheli

Sacchi Saheli is a Delhi-based NGO that conducts sessions on menstrual awareness in various slums in the city.  Through their Break the Bloody Taboo campaign, they are aiming to break the common myths among-st girls about menstruation.

 

 

“A great way to break a taboo is to be vocal about it and raise awareness”- by Raivat Patnana

Before I talk about my experience at Saral Designs, I’d like to tell you about myself. I hail from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and have done my schooling in Delhi Public School, Vizag and a couple other schools. Currently, I’m in my fifth year in the dual degree program offered by the Department of Engineering Design in IIT Madras.

As a part of my academic curriculum, it was mandatory for me to pursue a six-month internship in the field of my interest. For the same, companies from various fields came to my department for interviews. Of these all, I was looking for specific companies which were offering work in the field of product design. Only a handful of these companies were offering this field of work. One such company was “Saral Designs”. As an added motivation, Saral Designs is a Social Enterprise. I have always wanted to work in a Social Enterprise to understand the kind of impact they are able to create through their work depending on the cause. All these reasons led me to take up this internship.

During the course of my internship at Saral, I’ve had a lot of technical and social learnings. I designed various mechanisms and components, sent them for manufacturing, assembled and tested the machines during my internship. Hence, I had to work through complete cycles of design processes. Though I had designed devices in the past, I had never had the opportunity to complete an entire cycle of it before. This was a learning experience; I had to look at the same product through different perceptions at different stages of the design process. In addition, I was working on an entirely new design concept for this company. This was a ripe new avenue for me to ideate and design in. My overall experience at Saral Designs has been enriching and an exciting one.

As this company is committed to improving the situation of menstrual hygiene in India, I’ve learnt quite a lot about menstrual health since my joining. Well, this is embarrassing now. Prior to my internship, I didn’t know what menstruation actually is and how it affects a woman’s body. I remember a vague description from my ninth grade biology textbook where they described the biological process of menstruation. However, I didn’t remember the “word” and there was nothing about the pain it causes, among others. It was an eye-opener for me. Periods are not something people I know openly talk about. Having worked for 6 months in a start-up that focuses on menstrual health, I find myself being more comfortable and understanding of this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, menstrual health is a “hush” topic in India. In 6 months I have become more aware of how my surrounding reacts to a taboo topic like this. Let me share an experience with you that I recently encountered. I went back to my campus for a midterm review about a month after joining the company. For the same, I had to make a presentation telling what the company was about and what my work was. Since the company was involved in the manufacturing of Sanitary Napkins, I took a pad and displayed the product to my class. At once, the entire class started murmuring among themselves, and people were staring at me and the pad in a weird way as if I had committed a crime and was publicly displaying it. It took them a while, but by the end of the day, some of them came forward and appreciated my efforts to break the taboo around this subject. My lesson from this experience: “A great way to break a taboo is to be vocal about it and raise awareness”.

 

 

 

For maximum impact, listen more and speak less – By Anchal Srivastava

Every story, each poem that a person shares, each voice that speaks about menstrual taboo, inspires me and brings me closer to breaking this taboo…

I belong to a business class family from Lucknow (U.P.) and am currently pursuing my M.B.A from Banasthali University, Rajasthan. A few years ago, I realized the urgent need to tackle the problem of menstrual hygiene, when my mother suffered from ovarian cancer in 2012 due to an infection in her vagina because of fluctuation in her menstrual cycle. This made her suffer a lot for 2 years. But she came out stronger from this and recovered completely. It’s not just the story of my mother but, the story of millions of other women in India suffering from the same cause. These reasons drew me to this topic and I wanted to bring about a change in menstrual hygiene management; as it’s a matter of dignity for every woman.

Thus, began my journey in this field. I worked on creating awareness regarding menstrual hygiene with rural women of Rajasthan during my first year of MBA. As a part of my MBA curriculum, I have been interning with Saral Designs, a product driven start-up focusing on designing a better future for menstrual hygiene management by producing sanitary pads of high quality at an affordable price. At Saral, my learnings have only doubled as I have been exposed to the problems at the grass root level. Every day is a learning experience for me and my colleagues play a vital role in this journey.The team at Saral is very dedicated and passionate about the issue and work very hard towards improving the state of menstrual hygiene in India. I work across various parts of Maharashtra to understand the prevalent situation of women on their periods.

Recently I conducted an event on menstrual hygiene day at YTM College of Management and Dental Science, Navi Mumbai. The objective of the event was to create awareness and bust various myths on menstruation. I sat at a corner in the auditorium with over 100 students, patiently observing the crowd and scanning my audience. The students sat quietly with no participation from their side. Even though the students were from a medical background, there was no active participation from their end. They were shy and very uncomfortable to open up about the topic of periods. In the meantime, I was making a mental note of the various activities I can conduct to get active participation from the crowd.  As soon as I went to the podium, I started with an ice breaking game and a video which instantly got the crowd on their feet. I talked about the superstitions behind myths, scientific facts about menstruation and tried to bring light to the misconceptions people have about periods. Apart from creating awareness about menstruation, I spoke about the sanitary pads we, at Saral Designs make – Active Ultra and also distributed a few free samples of Active Ultra to the crowd. The moment I left the stage, people clapped and hooted loudly, that’s when I realized the event was a success.

I was happy that I could inspire the crowd to engage in a discussion on menstruation. I take back this great experience, knowledge from other speakers as a valuable learning in my bag. This is what Saral gave me in just half a month. I look forward to the rest of the  5 ½ months to go with Saral; to learn, to experience and delve much deeper into the world of menstruation and break the taboo!