During the COVID-19 lockdown enforced across India, 16-year-old Tia Poovayya learned underprivileged women could not get menstrual products and, as a result, were at risk of exposure to infection.
“Our housekeeper came to my mother and asked her for some sanitary napkins because she could not get any,” she says. “This made us realize that although there are several NGOs and volunteers working to provide food and dry rations to the poor during the lockdown, there are not many people who are devoted to providing sanitary hygiene products.”
At that moment, Tia decided to do something about it. She and her friend, Niketa Khanna, started an initiative called ‘Aurat Arogya (Woman’s freedom from diseases)’ in Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, a city of 10 million people and the capital of the state of Karnataka in the southwestern region of the country.
“We were very sad to learn about the plight of female migrant workers and immediately decided to help them,” said Tia. “Crowdfunding helped us raise money, and we have collected around 2 Lakh rupees (US$ 2,600) since 22 April,” she said.
With the money, the two teenagers assembled hygiene kits consisting of sanitary pads, soap, shampoo and masks. So far, they have distributed 2,000 kits in the Kormangala and Ulsoor areas of the city and now plan to distribute kits across Bengaluru.
“Underprivileged people have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Women are struggling to get menstrual products, so we have decided to continue helping them until things get back to normal,” said Niketa.
According to the teenagers, the police officers at Kormangala Police Station were very welcoming and made sure they reached labour camps and construction sites with the hygiene kits. The police also helped them with the exact count of female workers.
“As we were distributing hygiene kits, we discovered that many women were unaware of the use of sanitary pads. We explained to them the ill-effects of using a cloth and informed them about the process of using a pad,” said Tia.
The girls said they would continue to distribute kits to women, but with the addition of sanitizer and the replacement of normal pads with reusable ones.
“By using reusable pads, the women will not have to spend money on sanitary napkins for at least a year,” said Niketa.
“Reusable pads also reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste,” added Tia.
The teenagers said that menstruation is often regarded as a shameful topic in India and want to continue creating awareness around the normal biological occurrence.
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