So, we are in the 21st century, where women are prospering everyday, women are inspiring everyday.
But even in this era, menstruation is talked about with hesitation or the conversations take place within closed door, like women to women talk, you see? From whom are we hiding this fact that periods exist? Children? Men? Isn’t it a natural biological process? What’s with this shame that are we holding on to? Why is there a stigma around it? Let’s try to find its roots!
Remember lessons we were taught in primary school on body parts? How were we introduced to our bodies and organs? Head, face, neck, stomach, hands, legs and feet- that is it! Something was missing, wasn’t it? Something wasn’t right. We heard what our teachers said, assuming we will learn more as we get older. Did it really take place? Let’s find out.
Coming to the confused teenage days when we had a chapter on reproduction in biology and sex education. In biology, ‘that’ chapter was brushed without teaching. Funny, isn’t it? Same with sex education. Ask yourselves how many of you really got to know about reproductive organs and genital systems? How quickly our reproductive organs and genital systems got unnoticed and was given least importance; which gradually started getting rooted in to cultures and social norms; and finally became associated with stigma- especially when it is related to periods. Let’s see what the co-founder of The Red-cycle which is a volunteered program that conduct sessions on menstruation with teenagers between 15-18 years has to say, “In most cases teachers skip this portion, but we can’t simply blame the teacher for it, as students aren’t keen to know about the subject matter; but there are also situations where students bombard teachers with questions about the sexual and reproductive systems making them uncomfortable”. At the Red Cycle, awareness sessions are not conducted as women to women talk or behind the closed doors, on the contrary, these sessions are conducted out in open in the presence of both men and women. The amazing fact is that, session are not only taken by the female volunteers, but male volunteers also play an active role.
Motivated by Arjun’s work at the Red Cycle, I was curious to know what men at my workplace think about menstruation, having started my internship with Saral Designs, a social enterprise working in the menstrual health sector and these are the responses I received from my colleagues:
Well, I am quite happy that so many men are now talking about periods, working in women’s health start-ups and breaking the taboo. 21st century looks promising, but there is a long way to go! So, men! Let’s talk about periods.
R Balki’s Padman is set to release today and there is already a lot of buzz on several social media platforms around the “Padman Challenge.” Bollywood has come out to support the movie by posting pictures on social media with sanitary napkins and adding captions such as ‘holding a pad’, ‘nothing to be ashamed’ etc… Most netizens are supporting this as well. It is certainly good that more and more people are coming out and promoting menstrual hygiene and with mainstream faces of Indian cinema promoting such a crucial issue; it is bound to gain momentum. But hopefully, this won’t die post the release of Padman.
In hindsight, posing with sanitary napkins and uploading pictures on social media, will hardly do any good to the population which is living in the void and who barely have any idea surrounding menstrual hygiene issue. Come to think of it, 70% of the population lives in rural India, but not all have access to sanitary napkins. According to a census report of 2011, over 40 crore women live in rural India, while the composition of women living in urban India is around 18 crore. The rural women population is more than double the number of women living in urban areas. Brands that have garnered popularity among women in urban areas are Whisper and Stayfree, but these same brands are not accessible to the population living in rural areas and they are also not affordable.
Posting pictures on social media is just one aspect of creating awareness regarding menstruation, but on a broader spectrum, the pressing need is to create accessibility and awareness among the masses. Accessibility of sanitary napkins is low in India with only 16% using sanitary napkins, while the rest resort to unhygienic materials like husk, newspapers, cloth etc. 23% school girls in India drop out of school once they start menstruating. This is just one part of the problems!
State and Central Governments have taken initiatives to provide free sanitary napkins to girls and women in rural areas, civil society organisations too are working towards promoting menstrual hygiene, but that alone is not going to help. Problems around menstruation are larger than the solutions that are aimed for. Often we come across consumers who use ONE sanitary napkin for 24 hours, and such practices are unhygienic, leading to various infections such as reproductive tract infection, urinary tract infection and other fungal infections which affect a woman’s overall health in the long run. We also come across consumers who wash their pads before disposing them off. There are myths surrounding certain menstrual hygiene practices that are passed down from generation to generation or are created in terms of religiosity. Hence, awareness needs to be created regarding disposal of pads and proper usage.
At Saral Designs, we follow a holistic approach with an aim of creating a better future in menstrual hygiene and sanitation using product design, machine technology and innovative delivery mechanism. As a women’s health start-up, Saral produces high-quality sanitary napkins that can be compared to the best multi-national products in the market and are available at half the price. Saral Designs has initiated a social campaign “Hichak Kaisi” in collaboration with Bitgiving and RadioMirchi to support 10,000 school girls from low-income backgrounds with accessibility to free sanitary napkins for one whole year. The campaign will offer support to 10,000 girls by providing sanitary napkins and conduct Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) awareness workshops with them. The campaign extends to one year thereby giving the girls enough time to get accustomed to menstrual hygiene practices, while simultaneously, workshops will be conducted on MHM and myth-busting every 3 months to meet the girls and understand their issues. With this, our focus is on building both, awareness as well as the distribution of sanitary napkins.
While we are happy that celebrities are supporting the menstrual health issue, we believe that the problem can only be solved collectively by spreading awareness where the accessibility is scarce and resources are low and a large population joining this movement in creating menstrual awareness. Join us in spreading awareness and helping thousands of girls across the country by supporting our social campaign “Hichak Kaisi” and ask yourselves #WhyBeShy.
It wasn’t until 23 that Acumen Fellow Suhani Mohan first learned the magnitude of India’s menstrual hygiene problem. That’s because, despite being born into a highly educated family in Mumbai, Suhani hardly spoke openly about her period, let alone discussed menstruation with other women.
“Menstrual hygiene is a topic nobody really talks about in India,” she said. “For a very long time, it was something even in my family I wasn’t supposed to talk to my brother or father about. It was only a conversation between the mother and the daughter.”
Suhani isn’t alone. Across India, menstruation — although a natural part of a woman’s life — remains a deeply rooted taboo shrouded in secrecy, silence and shame. The social stigma not only stifles access to affordable, reliable products but also perpetuates India’s long history of discrimination against women.
Today, more than 80 million women lack access to sanitary napkins in India and roughly 200 million girls lack awareness of menstrual hygiene. As a result, they rely on makeshift, unhygienic alternatives, such as newspapers and old rags, that increase the risk of infection. In fact, around 70 percent of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by negligent menstrual hygiene. Without safe, clean options, women continue to put their health, livelihood and dignity at risk.
This was news to Suhani — until she met Dr. Anshu Gupta while volunteering through her job at Deutsche Bank. Dr. Gupta is the founder of Goonj, a social enterprise committed to breaking the myths around menstruation and providing safe solutions to low-income women. As he shared the challenges facing low-income women, Suhani felt ashamed for being completely unaware of the problem. “I never crossed my mind that when I spend 100 rupees ($1.50) a month to manage my menstruation, how a woman, whose entire family earns less than 1000 rupees ($15) a month, would manage hers,” she said.
Compelled to learn more, Suhani embarked upon a 15-day train tour across the length and breadth of India to understand life in the rural countryside. As she visited village after village, she began to realize the extent of the disparity, particularly in remote, low-income communities where access to sanitary pads was extremely limited and high-quality products were nonexistent.
Seeing the reality of the situation firsthand, Suhani began to question her path in life. Her role at Deutsche Bank was a sought-after job, but was she making a real difference? Being a volunteer was great, but was it enough? “Dr. Gupta showed me how many people were suffering,” she said. “That sense of urgency really made me see that it’s important. You can’t be in silence anymore.” She started to educate herself on all aspects of menstrual health and explore how she could use her skills and training from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) to improve the circumstances for her fellow Indian women.
She teamed up with Kartik Mehta, a fellow IIT alumni who studied engineering design and worked in machine design and development for companies like General Motors. Together, they researched the sanitary napkin industry to understand the existing products on the market. They discovered a gap: not only were companies producing substandard products, but they also didn’t have the means to scale and reach the women truly in need. In December of 2015, tech-savvy Suhani and Kartik began drafting a design for a machine that would automate the production of low-cost, high-quality pads and a business plan that would empower local manufacturers to scale these machines.
“While technology is making our lives easier, we believe that technology also needs to be used to address critical challenges that affect a huge segment of the population,” Suhani said.
As they developed their idea, Suhani applied to become an Acumen Fellow, hoping to learn how to turn their vision into a real, viable business. She and Kartik were having trouble getting their company off the ground, but she quickly learned she wasn’t alone. As a Fellow, she found a community of like-minded individuals who helped her think through her business model and break down the complexity of the problems she wanted to solve. “The Acumen Fellowship gave me another lens to look at problems, the adaptive lens, as we call it,” she said. “If I am part of the problem too, I will not be able to solve it…that lens has helped me a lot.”
By June 2015, Suhani and Kartik had quit their jobs and founded Saral Designs, a social enterprise that provides access to quality, cost-effective menstrual hygiene solutions and helps women embrace their womanhood with dignity. Their machine had been built, their new and improved pad designed; they were open for business. Now all they had to find were customers.
At first, Suhani turned to her friends and family to test out the product but, trying to be supportive, they failed to give her real, critical feedback. So Suhani, along with the other women on Saral’s team, ventured into Mumbai’s slums to see if they could find low-income women — the customers they ultimately wanted to serve — willing to try Saral’s pads. At first, they didn’t get very far but eventually, a few women opened up to them.
“Since the topic is so taboo, they would call us inside their houses,” Suhani said. “Once you get inside their safe space, we would sit down and have a conversation, woman to woman. What really worked was that we were talking the same language as them, and we were making them feel that their voice is really really important. That doesn’t happen in those communities.”
For Suhani, this is only the start. Now 26, she is looking to find more effective distribution channels to reach the millions of women without access to high-quality hygiene solutions, like those she met on her journey across rural India. She also wants to see if Saral Designs can replicate its model of distributed manufacturing for other essential consumer products.
“Entrepreneurship is a marathon,” Suhani said. “It’s not a sprint. It may happen that you get acquired and you’re out of it in five years but, when you start, that should never be the motivation. We are working toward a future where women will have access to a variety of services and products for their health and hygiene at a price they can afford.
The unnecessary shyness and stigma around natural biological processes like menstruation, puberty, sexuality and defecation need to end. When we start talking about these topics openly, innovations in these sectors will happen at a much greater rate.”
We all know that sanitary napkins are going to be taxed at 12 % GST. But, many of us are still unsure of its implications as a consumer and manufacturer. As most discussions currently revolve around the impact of GST on sanitary napkins and why sanitary napkins should be made free, we have our very own Suhani Mohan breaking it down for us in a lay man’s term. #taxfreeperiods#lahukalagaan#healthfirst Read more to find out.
23% of girls drop out of school once they start menstruating
66% girls are unaware of menstruation
“That time of the month” campaign will impact 1500 girls.The campaign will involve conducting 3 Menstrual Hygiene Awareness sessions per school and improve access to good quality sanitary pads, by supplying each girl with her annual need of 24 packets. The awareness session will be conducted by experts of Sukhibhava Foundation and Saral Designs will provide best hygiene products to manage periods.
Through this campaign, we aim to enable girls to manage their periods safely, hygienically and with dignity.
It only takes Rs. 999 to equip one girl with knowledge and habits to fight reproductive track infections, missing days of school and lack of confidence.
Sukhibhava Foundation, is a social enterprise working in the intersection of urban health, community change and empowerment. We aim to change the narrative around this by creating awareness about menstrual health and providing access to affordable sanitary pads to women and girls from underprivileged communities. We create a behavioural change from biological, sociological, gender-related and rights perspectives.
There is a lot of amazing work happening across the globe on menstruation. People have broken taboos in different ways, by being and by doing. Here is a list of 8 such amazing people!
Kiran Gandhi A musician and a Harvard graduate, 26 year old Kiran, completed the London Marathon during her period without a pad or a tampon, bleeding free, giving out a strong message to the world.
Anshu Gupta Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj and a Magsaysay award winner, believes that that the problem lies in the fact that menstruation has been made into a women’s issue. Goonj turns cloth into an affordable, clean and easy to use napkins for rural women.
Co-Exist To break the taboo of menstruation , a Bristol based firm Coexsit has introduced a “period policy” where they provide women leave if they suffer pain during periods.
Dilip Kumar To cater to the menstrual needs of urban poor women, Dilip founded a social enterprise Sukhibhava, which works from distributing low cost napkins to organizing information sessions.
Aditi Gupta Aditi has been working in shattering the myths and educating women and girls about menstrual health and hygiene through her website, Menstrupedia.
Nasreen Jehan A fifteen year old student from Bihar, Nasreen Jehan, proudly wears a yellow and red beaded bracelet on her wrist to keep track of her menstrual calendar and talk about menstruation with my friends.
Prakriti Kandel 15 year old Prakriti Kandel writes her novel, Imposter, a story set in a society where menstruation gives women superpowers.
Anushka DasguptaAnushka, a high school senior from Kolkata, shared a picture of her stained pants on Facebook as she wanted to start an honest conversation about the existing menstrual stigma.
We, at Saral Designs, love them for their kickass work. We aim to contribute to field by making affordable high quality sanitary pads and making them available in areas where they are needed the most.
At Saral Designs we have one primary focus in mind- to make sure that one day each woman has access to the right products during her periods. As a nation, we are far from that goal right now. Only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women have access to the right products. The 88% women who do not have access to the right products resort to unsanitary means such as cloth and husk sand. The biggest barrier for them is affordability. And our experience has shown that often when a product is unaffordable, there are a lot of myths surrounding the use of the product. This compounded by the fact that periods is already a taboo topic makes our job difficult, if not unsurmountable. We are here to change the conversation, speak scientifically about our bodies, and make sure that we are constantly moving towards a situation where every woman has access to a period pad and uses it without apprehension.
23% of the girls drop out of school when they start their periods. This is something we are pushing to change as well. The more girls that drop out of school, the less we are able to affect mindsets and move towards a more equitable society. So this definitely needs to change. We take small steps towards it, for example by Suvidha our sanitary napkin vending machine that allows for girls to have access to sanitary pads even in school.
But we realise that the first step towards changing any of this is to start by changing the conversation. Keeping this in mind, we held activities over the span of three days from 25th-27th May in Karjat, Maharashtra to connect with women who have not had access to resources so far or have been subject to taboos that can have crippling effect on their health. This was a part of our effort to do something meaningful for Menstrual Hygiene Day.
Each day around 70 women participated in our activities. Our activities were designed to involve them in getting a conversation started around periods, “educate” them about the right products and the right and get them to burst the myths that have surrounded conversations around periods in their communities. We decided to create awareness by the means of games.
We made them blow baloons and then think of the things that are bothering them..we made them burst the baloons (as a symbol of forgetting their miseries and enjoying, many women are often crippled by their troubles and have stopped being carefree). For us, any significant conversation starts with a happy state of mind.
We made them play Chinese whisper. At the end of it, like most times with this game, they got their phrase wrong. This was an attempt to show them how period myths propagate and inaccurate stories spread.
The last game was that of passing the parcel. The box had a period related question. If you get it right, you get a gift. Questions were testing their knowledge on myths, and general knowledge based on biology of periods.
We also had FAQs around access, affordability, safe disposal and other things.
We are still growing and our attempts are a step in the direction of our goals. If you want to get involved or want to buy our products, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +91-9029330401. You can also purchase our products at the following e-commerce websites: Amazon, Shopclues, Ebay
This Menstrual Hygiene Day let’s strive to create a better future where girls don’t need to drop out of schools due to periods and women don’t need to be crippled due to lack of access or not knowing the right information.