TWO FRIENDS, a student and a working woman, have launched a unique initiative against an age-old taboo. Srishti Millicent, studying journalism and mass communication at Panjab University, and Vani Jindal, an HR manager of a Chandigarh firm, have been crowd-sourcing funds via social media to buy sanitary napkins, which they distribute in slums across the city. Some of the biggest worries shadowing the health and hygiene of women in rural India have been lack of scientific understanding of menstruation, taboo and shame surrounding the monthly cycle, combined with limited or no access to sanitary napkins or similar products.
Despite the huge challenge of breaking through myths and misconceptions that continue to surround periods, A Sanitary Napkin Campaign, as the two 23-year-olds call it, hopes to make a dent by means of a simple intervention: the distribution of sanitary towels.
In their campaign, launched two weeks ago, the duo have distributed up to 50 packets of sanitary towels in two slum areas – Shaheed Udham Singh Colony near the Chandigarh airport in Mohali, and at Sector-38 in Chandigarh. As they distribute the packs, Srishti and Vani also open conversations with the women on its benefits, how to use and dispose them and ways of dealing with period cramps.
On Sunday, they plan to extend their campaign to the Sector 25 slum area.
“Some of the young girls in the area are increasingly becoming familiar with the concept of pads and have started using them. But the older women, above 40, are both hesitant and resistant to the idea. They suffer due to the taboo of menstruation in society and feel embarrassed going to buy pads or asking someone else to get it for them,” said Srishti.
Both are familiar with using social media to raise funds as they had taken part in a similar effort for Chennai flood victims in December 2015.
“We had good social media outreach,” said Srishti, who has over 4,500 followers on Twitter, “and we wanted to use it for a good cause. This idea just struck me.”
They have asked people to donate a minimum of Rs 28, the cost of one pack of towels, or donate sanitary towels. The friends have received over 300 packets of sanitary napkins and also managed to raise Rs 30,000. People donated through digital platforms.
“So far, we have been distributing the napkins we got as donation. Now someone has offered us sanitary towels at Rs 1.25 per piece, so we are thinking we will use the money for that,” Srishti told Chandigarh Newsline, adding that they were also thinking about providing an account of the money that has been donated for the cause.
They repack the sanitary napkins in packs of seven before distributing to ensure that they use them and are not tempted to sell them.
Next on their list are slums at Sector 25, Chandigarh, which the two plan to visit this Sunday.
“The major problem, along with the issues of taboo, unacceptability, rampant myths and lack of knowledge is the problem of affordability of pads, which this campaign solves. Some of the women, even after understanding the harmful effects of using cloth, ash or rags, continue to use them since they can’t afford to buy sanitary napkins or don’t feel confident while buying them. They are more than happy to use them if someone comes and gives it to them,” said Vani.
The two have also given their phone numbers to the women at the slums and even offered to deliver sanitary pads to them every month so that they don’t go out to buy them. They said they would raise funds to distribute sanitary towels for at least one more year and want to extend this to other slums in the city.