The taboo around menstruation and the inaccessibility of certain sections to sanitary products during the lockdown prompted volunteers of National Youth Union (NYU) to chip in with more than 1,000 kits, each containing two packets of sanitary napkins and two bars of medicated soap.
Along with the Pune Police, a team of 15 volunteers have been making rounds in small pockets of the city, where women, at any given time and place, may find it difficult to gain access to sanitary napkins.
Arijit Biswas, one of the founding members of NYU, said when the lockdown started, the group focused on healthcare and, since then, had been distributing soap, gloves, masks and food supplies to the underprivileged sections.
“When we tried to list the most neglected yet essential commodities that are not addressed or spoken about, we realised that any woman may find it difficult to buy sanitary products. In the absence of sanitary methods, women turn to rags, ash, newspapers and hay when they menstruate. Add to that, the taboo attached to menstruation, and you can only imagine how tough it must be to get sanitary goods during a lockdown, as only the men of the house step out to buy things. Sanitary napkins were not included in the essentials list until the Addendum Order issued on March 29. This shows that women’s necessities don’t get due importance,” he said.
The NYU partnered with Reach Out India to put the idea into motion. While the collection of sanitary products took time as the supply in the market was staggering and there was no production at the main units, the volunteers made the first batch of 1,000 kits ready to be distributed within a week. On March 19, 200 kits were distributed at Sant Ghadge School shelter home and, subsequently, within two days, 200 kits were distributed at a slum near Balewadi and 300 kits at Swami Vivekanand School shelter home, Mahalunge Basti and to those living on the streets.
“We coordinate with the Pune Police, which alerts us wherever there is a requirement. It is better to filter distress calls this way. To break the taboo, we ensured that the distribution is done by men and not women. We put the kits out on the table for all to see. The point is, if we feel uncomfortable, how will we change the outlook of others? Our drive had a good reception from the authorities as well as the people,” said Biswas.
Biswas also said since the situation of COVID-19 within the city had worsened, the volunteers were trying to ensure that they followed all safety protocols for their well-being.
“As long as we are allowed to help door-to-door, we will have our team of volunteers doing its work. After every delivery, each of us washes our clothes and prepares for the next distress call. Sometimes, we have to clean ourselves quite often but that is the need of the hour. If the situation does not permit us to be out, then our alternative is to ask the authorities to distribute,” he said.
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