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This NGO In Bengal Is Teaching Girls How To Make Reusable Cloth Pads During Lockdown

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) has been an emerging issue in rural India. The Sreema Period Project focuses on raising awareness of adolescent girls and women on MHM. Training groups of women to prepare homemade reusable sanitary napkins and developing  women enterprise on sanitary products is another key focus.

Through the project, a few development professionals and Sreema Mahila Samity are trying to reach out to the most underprivileged adolescent girls and women living in six Indo-Bangladesh border villages (Tangra Khal, Hazra Khal, Ramnagar, Kumari, Pakhiura, Chutipur) along the trans-boundary Ichamati river, under Hanskhali block of the Nadia district in West Bengal.

Around 500 adolescent girls from these six villages received donated reusable sanitary napkins on 11th June 2020 by the NGO that crowdfunded the initiative. The idea behind donating reusable napkins was to primarily reduce the cost incurred in maintaining hygiene as well as create awareness. Further, around 15 girls from the villages will be taught how to make these napkins that, according to the members of the organisation, can be used for at least two years.

Jyotirmoy Saraswati, Director of Sreema Mahila Samity, a Nadia-based NGO, says:

“This time, we are experiencing a very unique and unprecedented situation due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in our country. As the government announced a complete lockdown for over two months, the impact of the pandemic is going to be greater than what we could imagine. Due to zero cash flows or enough savings, it is difficult for marginal families to pay for menstrual products. Adolescent girls living along in remote Indo-Bangladesh border villages in Hanskhali block have zero access to menstrual hygiene, which caused infection in their urinary tract during the lockdown. We have been distributing commercial sanitary napkins among 500 adolescent girls in six villages free of cost for the past three months, but we feel it serves a purpose for only two to three months. Thus, we planned environment-friendly and sustainable menstrual hygiene management for them and started distributing reusable cloth pads that can last up to two years. A team of youth is helping us raise funds to run this project. Our volunteers are creating awareness among 500 adolescent girls and we aim to reach 1,500 more girls by the end of the year. We are planning to train 12-15 girls on making cloth pads over the next month.”

“I didn’t know how to manage my bleeding. When I got my first period, no one, including my mother, spoke to me about it. Through a friend, I learned that I had to use a cloth to absorb the blood. Not knowing how to get a cloth, I ended up using pillow covers and bedsheets. This angered my mother and I got beaten up for wasting money. I came to know of sanitary pads through a classmate. When I asked her for a few, she was snubbed by her family as they were expensive and could not be given away for free. I started falling sick because of fear of getting a period. With no access to sanitary products, I resorted to praying to God to stop my periods forever,” said Afsana, a 16-year-old girl from Pakhiura.

“Since earlier this year, volunteers of the Sreema Period Project started supporting us by distributing free sanitary napkins and organising regular awareness camps on menstrual hygiene in our village. This time, we are getting reusable cloth pads. They are unique and we hope they will solve our problems for the coming months,” Afsana added.

“During the lockdown, it has become difficult for people to procure food, so sanitary napkins are a luxury for them. Sreema Period Project is a unique, crowdfunded project that we are implementing in six remote villages (Chutipur, Pakhiura, Ramnagar, Kumari, Tangra Khal, and Hazra Khal) under Hanskhali block along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Initially, we were supporting 500 adolescent girls with free access to commercial sanitary napkins, but it was difficult to reach the villages during the lockdown. Many areas in Nadia were identified as a containment zone. So, we came up with an eco-friendly and sustainable solution for these girls. We started distributing reusable cloth pads that will last for at least two years. These pads are made by girls of Anahat, a self-help group,” says Ashish Mondal, one of the fundraisers of Sreema Period Project.

“A single woman can generate upto 125 kgs of non-biodegradable waste throughout her menstruating years. Studies have shown that one sanitary pad could take upto 500 years to decompose, which can lead to health and environmental hazards. So, our reusable solution will be an affordable and environment-friendly alternative for girls. As of now, we have raised Rs 1,42,000 through online and offline contribution. Our goal is to reach Rs 3,50,000, which will help us to serve 1,500 girls in the region. We received a seed grant from The Pollination Project to start this project and would like to collaborate with funding agencies,” says Tanmoy Bhaduri, campaign manager of Sreema Period Project.

Note: All photos have been provided by the author, and clicked by Tanmoy Bhaduri. 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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
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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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