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This Young Delhi Girl’s Project Is An Environment-Friendly Way To Smash Menstrual Taboos

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WASH logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #NoMoreLimits, a campaign by WASH United and Youth Ki Awaaz to break the silence on menstrual hygiene. If you'd like to become a menstrual hygiene champion, share your story on any one of these 5 themes here.

Deepa, 12, is the oldest of the 3 daughters of her single mother. A regular and bright student, she performed better than most boys in her class. Her mother had great expectations from her and was spending a chunk of her income in ensuring her education.

However, something suddenly changed. She started missing school regularly, and slowly fell to the bottom of the class. Seeing no reason in investing her hard-earned money, her mother pulled her out of school. Once a bright promising student aspiring to do a well-paying job, Deepa now works as a household help for her living.

What changed? Did something drastic happen? Not really, Deepa had just started menstruating.

The above story is a real reflection of the kind of problems girls face and the intensity of the difficulties related to menstruation in their lives.

Menstruation is common to every girl/woman. That accounts for almost 49.6% – 377 million women – of the world’s total population. It is perhaps the most simple yet the most needed discussions of our times. By considering this subject as a taboo, we manifest chauvinism that pervades around all the cultures, starting from our very homes.

In India, from a very young age, the girl is made to learn stereotypical norms to be followed around this natural phenomenon, like not entering the kitchen area or the temple, not touching certain things – the list is long. She has to carry the curse of being impure for those few days of every month.

To bring awareness about this tabooed subject, @WASHUnited started celebrating May 28 as Menstrual Hygiene Day since 2014. While not constraining it to just a date, they put down relevant reasons as to why menstruation matters. #WASH United shares how, in various developing countries, women’s and adolescent girls’ self-esteem, health and education gets directly affected, in the form of:

  • School attendance: 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school during menses (UNESCO).
  • Access to hygiene products: In India, up to 80% of girls use old clothes as absorbents.
  • Health: Vaginal infections are 70% more likely when using unhygienic materials.
  • Stigmatisation and insecurity: In rural Nepal, women and girls are forced to sleep in separate sheds while menstruating.

As a CSR professional, I have also come across all such concerns from time to time especially during my visit to government schools for WASH (water, health and sanitation) programs or other causes. Girls shared that their elder sisters and mothers have been living this life of shame and disgust for years now. This personally saddened me to a large extent and I wanted a solution to it. I got it in the form of ’Project Baala’.

Baala (meaning young girl in Hindi) aims to tackle the main problem about female menstrual hygiene in India: the expense of modern sanitary products, the problem of disposal, complete lack of awareness and information and the social taboos surrounding menstruation.

The project is the brainchild of Soumya Dabriwal, a young girl from New Delhi who’s as petite outside as she is strong inside. She realised an immense concern about this igniting still-a-silent cause. She learnt from her travel across five continents extensively that the myths and taboos around menstruation exist across the world and not just in a developing country like India. Working in rural Haryana and Delhi slums introduced her to the reality of many deep-rooted social problems that gained a global perceptive with her work experience in the rural of Ghana and South Africa.

The parallel point of focus apart from menstrual hygiene has also been the non- biodegradable waste that gets generated out of tampons and sanitary napkins used across India. On an average, a woman uses 10,000 sanitary napkins in her lifetime. Almost all of these are made from synthetic material, which takes 500 years to decompose. As per the research done, it is equivalent to 125 kg i.e. 13,000 units i.e. two transport trucks, which is humongous in terms of its environmental repercussions. Further to this:

‘Project Baala’ came up with a two-fold solution it believed to be both viable and effective in dealing with the social as well as environmental aspects of this deeply pressing issue of poor menstrual management in India:

1. Awareness And Education About Menstruation And Menstrual Hygiene

Through a fun and interactive 1-2 hours session, the team Baala educates and empowers the women and young girls on the core issues that include the reasons for a female body to menstruate, how the pain can be managed during those days through better awareness, how appropriate hygiene should be maintained during the periods etc. The team, during various workshops in the recent past, picked up ques and queries from the feedback taken and further answered their concerns like when to visit a doctor, what to eat to compensate for nutrient loss during menstruation and so much more. It is both saddening as well as a happy feeling to realise that both the women and the young girls have so many questions, numerous thoughts related to their health and well being but ironically have been living their lives maintaining a strange silence around it.

2. Sustaining Hygienic Menstrual Protection

Baala introduced re-usable sanitary pads to these girls and women. These pads are specially designed to combine the functionality of a commercial pad with the re-usable and environment-friendly attributes of cloth. The pad comprises multiple layers, with each layer serving its own functionality like softness, quick drying ability, a high-absorbent core, leak-proof layer, antimicrobial treatment to name a few.

A kit of 3 pads is distributed to each girl, to optimise for the using-washing-drying cycle. Enabling usage of these pads helps eliminate three major problems:

a) Risk of infection caused by using unclean cloth.

b) The burden of expense for girls to continuously purchase sanitary pads.

c) Immense pollution created by disposal of synthetic sanitary pads.

It is heartening to see that the feedback has shown increase in school attendance, higher confidence levels during menstruation and decrease in the use of old rags as menstrual absorbents.

  • 93% of girls report regularly using the Baala pads during menstruation.
  • 82% girls who used the pads stated that they did not find any problem while using the pads (drying was highlighted as a problem by the rest)
  • 98% girls were satisfied with the amount of information they were given in the Baala workshop
  • 73% girls reported an increase in school attendance during periods after attending the Baala workshop
  • 98% girls reported feeling more confident about themselves and their bodies after the Baala workshop
  • 9.5 out of 10 is the average rating given by the girls to the workshop experience.
  • 16500 lives have been touched so far across 11 states in India.

“I am so happy with the Baala Pads. They feel so soft and comfortable. Washing the blood also happens very easily. And the material is really good and does not feel wet at all. And I love the colour of it! Pink is my favourite!”- (as translated from Hindi) Nisha, a student in RTBK school in rural Delhi

So, all my beauties, let’s celebrate womanhood on this Menstrual Hygiene Day. Let’s love and respect our bodies no matter what. Let’s join together and aim to find solutions with the right intention, get educated, make infinite such small changes in the lives of young girls and women like Nisha that translate into much bigger impact. Let’s get together and eliminate the taboo that girls and women like Deepa are constantly cursed with. That’s when every ‘baala’ and ‘naari’ shall live a healthy and a happy life with #NoMoreLimits.

Let's ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period by making menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools.

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