Written by Hibah Bhat
Beating societal taboos around menstruation and talking about something that is stigmatised in Kashmir society, a 31-year-old doctor from Srinagar has started a crowd-funding campaign for sanitary pads for the poor. And in this project, her unlikely helpers are the women religious scholars.
The idea came up when poor girls from city suburbs visited Dr Auqfeen Nisar, a Doctor of Medicine student at Government Medical College Srinagar, with complaints about irritation and allergy.
“A few girls came to me and complained about irritation, allergy and reproductive tract infections. As I enquired, I discovered that they have an extremely poor menstrual hygiene due to the usage of cloth instead of sanitary pads,” says Dr Auqfeen. “When I asked these girls about why they don’t use sanitary pads, they talked about un-affordability and lack of awareness. This is when I thought about crowd funding”.
Dr Auqfeen, who is pursuing her MD in Community Medicine named her crowd funding project as ‘Panin Fikar’ (Self Care) and she has managed to reach at least 200 poor girls so far.
“I first started the project in a sub centre in the outskirts of city,” she says. “The centre caters to a population of around 4,000 people. About 200 of them are adolescent females. Most of these girls belong to the lower class”.
In a society that shies away from talking about women issues, it was not an easy job for Dr Auqfeen to motivate the young girls to come forward. In this endeavour, her unlikely helpers were the women religious scholars. These scholars conducted a few awareness sessions with these girls.
“We felt that there was a need to present to these females the Islamic perspective of menstrual hygiene so that they don’t shy away from these topics and freely accept the changes,” she says. “It helped in acceptance from these young girls”.
The ASHA workers also helped.
According to the data collected by Dr Auqfeen, approximately 70 per cent of the girls – in the community that she studied – didn’t use pads mostly because of the lack of affordability and the awareness.
“After assessing the hygiene of these girls, I found out that most of their concerns related to the reproductive organs were due to the usage of cloth during the periods which was repeatedly being used without proper washing and thus leading to different allergic reactions,” she says. “It was at that point when I decided to start crowd-funding of sanitary pads to encourage the use of sanitary pads among these girls”.
However, Dr Auqfeen’s journey wasn’t without hiccups. “It wasn’t easy for them (girls) to talk about such things,” she says. “Initially, it was shocking for them to be talking about menstruation in the open. They were very hesitant and used to cover their faces even in front of me”.
During her project, Dr Auqfeen realised that it wasn’t just affordability that was stopping these girls from using sanitary pads but also the lack of awareness regarding menstruation. What she found more challenging was to approach and educate the females on menstruation and create a social acceptance for this new change.
An 18-year-old girl Asiya Zehra is one of the beneficiaries of the crowd funding project. “We are taught not to talk about these things in open, so I too was very reluctant to talk about it. But after proper counselling, I came to know using cloth instead of the pads can pose a threat to our body,” says Zehra. The teenage girl even convinced her mother to use the sanitary pads.