Every year on October 11, the International Girl Child Day, UNICEF launches an annual campaign with girls to amplify their voices and stand up for their rights. This year the theme is "My voice, our equal future". The theme focuses on how girls globally are breaking barriers and proving their potential on the world stage. However, back home in India, especially in the rural and underprivileged households the battle is more primitive.
According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, there are approximately 336 million menstruating women in India. However, only 121 million (roughly 36 per cent) women use sanitary napkins, while the rest have to rely on homemade alternatives such as cloth, rags, hay, sand, or ash.
Moreover, for women in low-income communities, premium commercial products are generally either too expensive or consistently inaccessible or both. They even lack access to appropriate sanitation facilities. As of 2016, there were 63 million adolescent girls living in homes without toilets, severely affecting their ability to manage their menstruation.
Meanwhile, an NGO in Pune is breaking taboos by promoting sustainable menstruation. Badlaav Social Reform Foundation's Project SAKSHAM (Safe Knowledge on Sexual Health and Menstruation) has recently raised Rs 1 lakh through crowdfunding on Milaap and distributed sustainable menstrual products like cloth pads and menstrual cups, around a few pockets in the city including Bhawani Peth, Sangamwadi, Kothrud, Kondhwa and Wanowrie. These pads provide a long term solution, are cheap and also do not degrade the environment any further.
Helmed by a 24-year-old environmentalist, Radhika Dhingra, the NGO also conducts classroom sessions around periods, menstrual cycle and sexual education for young girls and women from socially marginalized communities. 'Badlaav' aspires to break the barriers of taboo around topics like menstruation by building a space for healthy dialogue and awareness through interactive sessions and empowering the girls.
Dhingra said her attempt was to promote sustainable alternatives which are not only good for the environment but are also hygienic. She added, "Period poverty affects many girls, and the pandemic has only added to the problems. We realized this would result in many girls dropping out of schools and compromising with their health as well by using sub-standard products. We attempt to reach out to as many girls as possible, break through the stigma of periods."
The NGO has its office in the city's Lullanagar area and has around 10 people working passionately. Badlaav's another strong pillar Arvind Nair, said, "Through Project Saksham, we aim to promote sustainable and safe menstruation among the marginalised communities in Pune. While providing the girls with menstrual products, we also conduct sessions with them that address the importance of proper menstrual hygiene, sustainability, etc. All in all, with each menstrual kit/product we empower these girls with knowledge for life."
Rahi tai, a community mobiliser of the waste pickers community, was hesitant to use the sustainable products at first. "I kept checking every few hours, but there was no leakage. I could sleep comfortably, and I also love the colour," she said. Now, Rahi tai has begun encouraging fellow girls and women around her to use the same.