Amid lockdown, India’s youth initiative takes sanitary pads and hygiene awareness to women and girls

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By Raza Naqvi

A youth organization in New Delhi has been distributing sanitary pads and raising menstrual awareness among girls and women across India since 2016. While the country remains under lockdown due to the coronavirus, Project Baala is determined that its important work still gets done.

“Women would have been the worst hit, as menstrual hygiene is very important to prevent infections,” says Soumya Dabirwal, the founder of Project Baala.

“So when the country went under strict lockdown in late March, we knew we had to find a way to continue distributing pads to women,” she said in a conversation with WSSCC about how her organization has been functioning through the pandemic.

 

With the help of volunteers, Soumya and her team have distributed 20,000 reusable sanitary pads across the country, with another 20,000 to be distributed in the coming days – pads that can be reused for up to two years.

According to a report by Water Aid and Menstrual Health Alliance India, more than 120 million women and girls each use eight sanitary napkins per menstrual cycle, which results in 12 billion pads entering the waste stream annually in India.

“Regular pads create a major issue of non-biodegradable waste. We are trying to make a difference by producing pads that can be used for up to two years,” explains Soumya.

“The coronavirus will be here a long time. These reusable pads are eco-friendly and will solve the problem of accessibility and disposal for women,” she says.

Despite the lockdown, Soumya and her team also continue to build menstrual awareness among women and young girls. They digitized their information campaign and are reaching out to people with videos via social media channels such as YouTube and WhatsApp, helping women receive information about health and hygiene, especially important during these challenging times.

“We want them to adopt good hygiene habits, not only with respect to menstruation – we are also making them aware of coronavirus and how to avoid getting infected,” Soumya said.

In India, menstrual health is still considered a taboo subject, leaving women exposed to misinformation and myths associated with menstruation. According to Dasra, a Mumbai-based development foundation, only 48 percent of adolescent girls in India have any awareness of menstruation prior to their first period.

Globally, hundreds of millions of women and girls menstruate every day, many without the facilities to manage their menstrual health safely.

Project Baala has been organizing awareness campaigns and workshop across India for the past four years, and also works in other countries including Nepal, Ghana and Tanzania.