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Pads And The Pandemic: These Girls Bridged The Access Gap, And How!

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
Editor’s Note: This post is a part of #EveryOneCounts, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children, to spark conversations around how in the fight against the coronavirus, everyone counts, and every voice, every action can make a difference. Join the campaign and publish your story here.

“Aise time pe kaun en ladkiyon ke baare mein sochega? Kapda istemaal karne se infection hone lage hain…” (Who is going to think about these girls in this situation? They have started getting infections from using cloth.)

In the lockdown-hit Thob village of Rajasthan, Renu Gaur had to travel 30 km on her Scooty to collect sanitary napkins for menstruators in her community. She and her community are amongst the millions across India, whose right to bleed with dignity was compromised, as COVID-19 brought upon an unexpected nationwide lockdown.

Renu on her scooty
Renu drove a distance of 30km on her Scooty to collect sanitary napkins for the girls in her community. Source: Save the Children

Quaran-‘teen’ Problems

While most of us are at home, locked down, with our lives on hold, there are many who don’t have a place to call home and are the most vulnerable to the infection and disease. Women, girls and children are the ones most affected by the virus outbreak as in the case of any humanitarian crisis.

Lockdown has brought nations around the world to a standstill. We run the risk of losing the gains made for millions to the pandemic. The road to rebuild lives will be harder, unless we prioritise those on the margins, who are pushed further behind.

Another group, however, is waiting in the shadows, with urgent and unique problems that don’t capture the media’s imagination. With a deadly airborne virus claiming lives, menstruation needs of young women are further pushed from consideration. This is apparent in the fact that when the government first announced the list of essential goods that would remain available during lockdown, menstrual products didn’t feature. It took protests and a tweet (dated March 29) from Smriti Irani for sanitary products to qualify.

A taboo and heavily silenced subject, awareness about menstrual hygiene and sexual and reproductive healthcare among adolescents is already poor in India, with over 23 million adolescent girls dropping out of school upon attaining menarche. The lockdown only made matters worse.

She-roes In Pandemic Times

And yet, despite the risks and challenges, there are stories of hope and inspiration to be found in girls like Renu Gaur.

When the supply chain of sanitary pads in her village near Jodhpur halted due to lockdown, and even Anganwadis and government health centres had minimal to no supply, Renu decided to take matters into her own hands.

She wrote a letter demanding distribution of sanitary napkins to local authorities, which went unheard initially. Undaunted, she approached Dr Vivek at the Government Hospital, Osian, which is located 30 km from her village—Thob. Upon hearing that she would be able to procure sanitary pads from him, Renu travelled in her Scooty all the way to the hospital and back, just to ensure that the girls in her village had their hygiene requirements fulfilled.

Nitu Kumari holding a hand-sewn pad
Nitu holding a sanitary pad she sewed. Source: Save the Children

In another part of the country, Nitu Kumari from Bihar also led by example to ensure women in her community could bleed with dignity. The community she lives in is based far from the main market, and the menstruators in the community found it hard to afford sanitary napkins, which were being sold at high prices in the few shops nearby.

Determined to ensure that the girls in her community didn’t resort to unhygienic methods of managing their periods, Nitu began using locally-sourced materials like old saris and leftover fabric from tailor shops to make sustainable, reusable and safe-to-use sanitary napkins.

Home-made, affordable and environment friendly, Nitu’s cloth pads served as a wonderful initiative for the girls there, who didn’t have to travel far for thier sanitary needs amid the lockdown.

In a place where young girls don’t even speak about periods, Nitu also began teaching other girls in her community how to make and use these pads safely. Her swift action has helped menstruators in her community become self-reliant during the lockdown and is also bringing a change in their hygiene practices in the long run.

She proudly reveals, “My mother says she is proud of me for leading the change in the community, I am happy we are able to survive,” while hoping to be an example for other girls in villages like hers.

The Fight For Dignity Continues

Clearly, as a society we’re still a long way from completely eradicating period stigma, and the pandemic has revealed just how deep the issue runs for many girls in the country.

Yet, hope persists in she-roes like Nitu and Renu, who have come forward to help their communities maintain dignified and healthy lives.

As we prepare to exit Lockdown 4.0, what is your message of solidarity and hope for girls like Nitu and Renu? What solutions would you suggest to help them overcome such challenges? Publish your story on YKA with #EveryOneCounts, and stand a chance to get published in a book! 

#EveryOneCounts is a joint initiative between United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Save the Children and Youth Ki Awaaz to create conversations around how in the fight against the coronavirus, everyone counts, and every voice, every action can make a difference.

Note: This post was written by Namita Gupta, with inputs, research and stories from Save the Children India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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