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These 7 Women Are At The Forefront Of India’s Fight For Period Positivity

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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.

Talking about menstrual health can be difficult, but some women have been fighting against menstrual stigma for a long time. They have succeeded in shaping a positive narrative in several parts of India. There is a long way to go before India becomes entirely period positive, with these women working tirelessly, it’s possible to bring about a change.

1. Lakshmi Murthy

Lakshmi Murthy, who created the ‘Lace Wallah Kapda’ (a reusable cloth pad with straps), has helped spark significant change in the way people perceive menstruation. By advocating for sustainable menstrual products and conducting workshops and training sessions, she managed to reach out to 20,000 women, 10,000 adolescents and 5000 men in just five years.

Reusable cloth pads designed by Lakshmi Murthy
Uger Pads

When the demand for ‘Lace Wallah Kapda’ had dropped, Lakshmi realised that she would have to change her design to accommodate the needs of modern girls. She designed ‘Uger Pads’, another cloth alternative that took off because it was easy to use. Her work encouraged several women to adopt healthier and sustainable means of menstruation. In 2015, ‘Uger Pads’ was nominated for the international award – INDEX: design to improve life.

2. Jayshree Parwar

Based in Goa, Jayshree Parwar along with a group of women from her village produce biodegradable sanitary napkins. Her self-help group ‘Saheli’ provides biodegradable pads made of pinewood paper that Jayshree claims degrade in eight days when buried. In the beginning, people would run away from her stall at exhibitions; over time, people began to acknowledge her pads.

Jayshree Parwar. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS on fickr.com

In an interview, Jayshree speaks about her experience with plastic pads and the infections and rashes caused by them. Her drive and initiative have not only created a healthier, environment-friendly alternative to commercial pads but also helped provide women in the village with jobs to sustain themselves.

3. Param Saini

Access to menstrual products has been one of the biggest problems hindering the health of women. Param Saini, based in Ludhiana, has made it her mission to self produce and distribute sanitary pads for free within her community. She manages a small operation consisting of 3 employees who provide 20,000 pads per month.

Made of wood pulp, organic fibre and cotton, these pads are distributed to girls in government schools. Param has also supplied pads to slums and women’s prisons. Since she does not charge for her pads, she pays her employees with whatever donations she receives, sometimes even out of her pocket. Her generosity and selflessness have changed the lives of women in Punjab.

4. Saleha Khan

Saleha Khan
Credits: Saleha Khan on instagram

Teenagers today have been at the forefront of several political as well as social movements. So it comes as no surprise that Saleha, who was merely 12 years old when she started attending menstrual health sessions, is now a vocal advocate for the same. By conducting more than 250 sessions on menstrual hygiene, she has managed to influence over 2500 young girls into adopting safer menstrual practices.

Her work with Save the Children and ‘WASH4LIFE’ program has helped countless children. Her activism has earned her the Savitribai Phule Award, and a nomination for the International Peace Prize.

5. Prachi Kaushik

Prachi Kaushik, the founder of Vyomini, aims to change the face of rural India by helping women entrepreneurs as well as advancing the discourse on reproductive health. She started an incubation centre, the first one in India, that trains women to make sanitary napkins. Her program not only helps women become independent but also develops their business and marketing skills.

In addition to this, Vyomini also installs vending machines in corporate offices and helps sensitise employees to the issues surrounding menstrual health. By combining menstrual health and entrepreneurship, Prachi has brought about a new way to fast track women empowerment in rural India.

6. Aditi Gupta

Where does a young girl experiencing menarche go to understand the changes in her body? This is where Aditi’s brainchild Menstrupedia comes in. Explicitly catered towards young children, Menstrupedia is a comic book that helps clear concepts surrounding puberty and menstruation.

The comic is available in 18 different countries, used by 7500 schools, 270 NGOs and has successfully touched 1.2 million girls across India. Aditi’s work has made menstrual health education accessible and entertaining to young girls.

7. Soumya Dabriwal And Aradhana Rai Gupta

In 2016, Soumya Dabriwal started ‘Project Baala‘ after volunteering in India and Ghana as a teacher. She was able to see the problems girls faced in both countries first hand and wanted to do her bit.

Aradhana Rai Gupta joined her initiative in 2018 and helped co-lead the project. Initially, the project helped educate young girls about menstrual health, but it has since evolved. They designed Baala cloth pads that last up to two years and distribute them during their workshops.

They conduct eight-part workshops in villages and work with other women to impart knowledge in local languages. They have managed to build a strong team of women who travel all over the country and help educate others.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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