The Period Warriors

Amrita Prasad
Tuesday, 6 February 2018

With the film Pad Man releasing this Friday, Amrita Prasad talks to people and organisations working to provide affordable sanitary napkins and struggling relentlessly to break taboos

As part of their initiative to bring awareness to the cause of better menstrual hygiene for women in the country,  #AbSamjhautaNahin, along with Blush and the stars of Pad Man, have partnered with The Vatsalya Foundation to better the grave situation of menstrual hygiene in India and to provide underprivileged women with sanitary napkins.  All it takes to help facilitate one underprivileged woman’s year-round supply of sanitary napkins is Rs 400. Even if you support the needs of one woman, you ensure that she doesn’t have to compromise on menstrual hygiene. To make a donation, visit www.ketto.org 

WOMEN FRIENDLY WORKPLACE 
Pallavi Barnwal, a single mother, writer and a Social Change Champion, Startup Leadership Program (SLP) Fellow, has collated an extensive survey which highlights the difficulties women face in trying to access sanitary pads at their workplace. 

Fuelled by her own experiences and discomfort felt during periods while at the workplace, she conducted a survey which showed that women do not get the required assistance. Through this survey, she wants organisations and corporate offices to give women access  to sanitary napkins through the ‘Stock Sanitary Napkin at Workplace,’ campaign.  

“We need to have access to sanitary napkins and a private place to change, and absence of an immediate work commitment, to let you do the first two. In a workplace, this is always not the case from what I have learnt from my experience,” says Barnwal adding, “This has a far-reaching effect on the health and psychological well being of women. In most cases, male managers do not understand the discomfort which females go through while menstruating,” says she.  

It has to start from raising awareness. “Women work with male managers and colleagues who themselves are victims of social conditioning. Since the majority of HR staff in an organisation are females, they should initiate sensitisation through gender neutral programmes to eliminate the discomfort around periods related conversations at the workplace,” she says. She further insists that stocking sanitary napkins in dispensers in washrooms, public spaces will go a long way in reducing panic and restoring confidence in women who get periods while unprepared.  

While making sanitary napkins is one challenge, organisations not being considerate enough to women who go through tremendous pain during periods is another challenge. According to Barnwal, the survey they carried out indicated that 79 per cent of women face menstrual cramps in the first two days of periods, however, only a few of them were allowed to take leave or work from home. “Most organisations have provisions of sick leave and work from home option which women employees can utilise. However, there must be adequate sensitisation so that they do not hesitate while disclosing the reason for leave and is not denied when asking for it,” she says.   

To make a workplace period-assistant requires convincing the top management. “It is certainly possible by making men a party to this conversation. In the survey, some men shared that they have bought sanitary napkins for their wives/ girlfriends. Opening up is half the battle won,” she says.

ASSISTING THE DOMESTIC HELP
I didn’t use or know what a sanitary napkin was until a few years ago when my daughter started menstruating. It was then that I switched from cloth to pads, but I find it very expensive,” says Tulsa Gaikwad, a domestic help working in Baner. Gaikwad is not alone, there are hundreds of others who face this challenge.

Amarpreet Kaur Sindhi, a homemaker living in Baner-Balewali area, has been working towards providing sanitary napkins to women working in residential apartments and their young daughters. “I closely collaborate with organisations that provide sanitary napkins at cheap rates. Usually, I ask people living in neighbouring residential areas to donate money and stock the napkins, and distribute them to domestic help in the area.

Besides, it is important that they know about the importance of menstrual hygiene, especially young girls. So along with a few ladies living in this area, we conduct sessions on Sundays and teach them the importance of maintaining basic hygiene. At times, we ask them to get the boys who also need information about periods so that they grow up without any social conditioning or barriers about menstruation,” explains Sindhi who is currently planning to collaborate with Asmita Scheme, a Maharashtra Government initiative which aims at providing a packet of sanitary napkins for Rs 5. 

She believes that if we can think sensibly and be sensitive towards underprivileged women who have no access to sanitary pads, we can bring about a change. “Even if you can spare a few hundreds of rupees every two or three months, it can prove beneficial for the underprivileged women,” she says.  

MAKING IT AFFORDABLE 
Kolkata-based organisation Rural Health Care Foundation (RHFC), which works to provide quality, affordable and accessible health care services to the rural poor, has started an initiative where they are making sanitary pads affordable and accessible to women within the state. Khushboo Pandey, communications manager at  RHCF, says, “I believe not only awareness but affordability and accessibility of these napkins should be the major concern.” 

RHFC served over 1.7 million patients since 2009 through 22 health care centres, spread across nine districts of West Bengal. “Since last year, we have been offering sanitary napkins at subsidised rates through sanitary vending machines installed at our centres. One can buy three sanitary napkins at Rs 10, which is very cheap in comparison to the market rate. We make sure that medical aid and sanitary napkins are affordable for the marginalised sections of our society,” adds Pandey. 

Some of the challenges involved was breaking the taboo and making young girls and women in urban slum areas confident enough to use the installed vending machines in front of other patients at the centre.

Says Pandey, “We observed that if advised by doctors, ladies were willing to use pads instead of cloth or other things that they have been using throughout their life. But it takes a lot of care and support to make them understand that using pads is all about maintaining their hygiene and health, and not at all embarrassing.”

The organisation says that it is time to remove any kind of taboo, shame and embarrassment associated with periods and sanitary napkins. When asked how successful has been their project, Pandey says that they do not assess their success by the number of pads they sell but how the initiative has helped in changing the perspective of women. “We have noticed that young girls are using this vending machine without even thinking twice. Also, now men can be seen taking napkins from these machines for women. We have decided to install sanitary vending machines at all our 14 rural centres,” concludes Pandey. 

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