If you’re a woman living in India, life can become very difficult. The saddest bit is that the stigma around one of the most natural bodily processes there is – menstruation – makes it very hard for women to survive in the country. I was shocked to find out that almost 23% girls in India drop out of school when they begin menstruating. Further, 70% girls cannot afford sanitary napkins and even worse, 88% women are forced to use ashes, newspaper, sand husks and even dried leaves for sanitation. Many women are forced to undergo a uterus removal due to severe infection caused by sharing a single piece of cloth among female family members. Some women even die due to severe tract infections. In this situation, a woman’s health should be treated as a cause of primary concern, but in India, this is shockingly considered a taboo.
Alarmed at the statistics, I realised that there was a need for an immediate intervention to ameliorate the lives of young women. And through my experiences with the CSR division of Symbiosis Institute of Operations Management (SIOM), I had the privilege of working with several NGOs – one of which approached us to help tackle the issue of increasing drop-outs among school-going girls around the Nashik area in Maharashtra. The reason behind the dropouts, we were told, was largely because of social taboos around menstruation and lack of proper sanitation in schools. When the case was handed to me, I decided to involve a few of my friends to dig deeper into the problem.
Joining hands with Dang Seva Mandal, the primary NGO that SIOM works with, we began Project Asmi- a drive towards women’s sanitation. To begin with, we identified 7 schools in the area which reflected the highest dropout rates among young school going girls, located in Ware, Ambegaon, Kumkumdane and surrounding areas. Our estimates reflected that about 14,000 sanitary pads were required to meet the needs of 4000- 5000 children in these schools.
With a little more research, we mapped out routes to the target schools which needed the most urgent intervention, and then worked towards creating a supply chain model that enabled the smooth distribution of sanitary napkins from the suppliers to the schools in the least possible time, which we estimated to be a week. We were aided significantly by the staff at the SIOM’s health institute (Symbiosis Centre for Health Care), who, through organised awareness drives and programmes, helped eradicate some of the social misconceptions and stigma around usage of sanitary napkins.
Apart from this, I also worked closely with organisations such as the Siddhivinayak School and Prabhodini, which cater to the needs of differently-abled children. Additionally, I gained experience in working towards issues such as bridging the gap in digital education among the poor, raising cognizance levels in schools for children from tribal communities and volunteering at old-age homes and tree plantation drives, among other things. It’s with these opportunities that I learned the importance and absolute urgent need for finding a sustainable solution for the social issues that plague society.
I took away a number of lessons and memories from my experience working with SIOM’s CSR wing and associated NGOs. It is only with the collaborative efforts of the government, civic society and individuals together that we can reach out to more individuals, improving lives through slow, steady deliberate efforts.