Mysuru duo steps up for underprivileged women amid COVID-19 pandemic

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By Raza Naqvi

MYSURU, India – A lawyer-doctor duo have stepped up to ensure that menstrual hygiene and awareness are given priority, as the strict lockdown in India impacts the supply of menstrual hygiene products to millions of young girls and women.

Dr Sagarika Nithyanand and Manasa Rao from Mysuru, a city in the southern state of Karnataka in India, are dedicated to addressing issues related to menstrual health and hygiene. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo, associated with non-profit Reachout India, have hosted awareness sessions and provided hygiene kits – comprising seven sanitary pads, soap, hand sanitizer and a packet of detergent - to women in slums.

What started as a hygiene kit distribution drive in Mysuru soon became a nationwide effort, with volunteers reaching out to vulnerable women in states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Odisha.

“By the time we distributed 1,000 kits in Mysuru, reports of a shortage of menstrual health products started surfacing from many parts in the country. To address the problem, we distributed the kits across India,” explains Manasa.

Speaking to WSSCC, Ms Laxmi Ramesh, a beneficiary from Bharatnagar locality, said, “A lot of people were distributing food during the pandemic, but no one was thinking about menstrual health in Mysuru. I am glad that these women thought about distributing hygiene kits as we had very little money to buy menstrual products. The kits made our periods comfortable.”

The duo has visited 40 low-income areas in Mysuru, while Reachout India has provided 20,000 women with access to menstrual products. The awareness campaign, led by Dr Sagarika, is also having a positive impact among underprivileged women, who are now adopting healthy practices.

“Many women and young girls were not aware of the use of sanitary napkins. They were using rag clothes, coconut leaves and ash while on their period. This made me uncomfortable, and I decided to educate them on menstrual hygiene, along with the distribution drive,” says Dr Sagarika, who does one-on-one and group consultations with the women.

A beneficiary from Kalyangiri locality in the district shares, “I would never have known about the risks of using coconut leaves if Dr Sagarika wasn’t there to help us. I am now aware of the healthy practices and will spread the message among my community members.”

A 16-year-old beneficiary added, “I didn’t know how to use a sanitary pad; it was only after the awareness session I learnt how to use it. I am sure it will save me from infections.”

Dr Sagarika, who works at the Asha Kirana Hospital, says that she will arrange for regular check-ups of women who face health issues related to menstruation. “I am looking forward to organizing weekly awareness campaigns in which we will tell the women about sustainable menstrual products and safe disposal methods. During my one-to-one sessions, I came to know that many women were burning menstrual waste which is bad for the environment.”

Ms Manasa, who is a lawyer and development practitioner, says that they are also planning to train women on how to make sanitary pads and they have set up dustbins for collecting sanitary waste in the city.

“Our next initiative will roll out once the government schools start functioning. We will introduce a menstrual hygiene manual in schools to make young girls and boys aware of menstrual health,” she said.