A city girl who started a menstrual hygiene awareness initiative last year is distributing reusable sanitary pads among poor women.
Ananya Chhaochharia, 24, has raised about Rs 4 lakh through crowdfunding and personal donations to distribute 2,000-odd menstrual kits in and around Calcutta and other Indian cities through NGOs that work in the communities. Each kit of three reusable washable pads costs approximately Rs 250.
The former student of Modern High School for Girls started procuring and distributing the pads in the first week of April after she heard stories of women reusing dirty commercial pads or reverting to homemade alternatives such as scraps of cloth during the lockdown. Many of these women were worried about livelihood and could not afford to buy pads.
“Women across India have unfairly been made to choose between basic needs of food, clothes and shelter and their sanitary needs. What many don’t realise is menstruation is not a matter of choice but part of the natural process,” Ananya said.She has distributed 5,000 kits across the country.
Ananya, who is scheduled to go to Harvard Kennedy School for masters in public policy, launched the Paint it Red initiative in September 2019 to create awareness about menstrual hygiene, prompted by a personal experience. She was travelling through rural Bihar on a job assignment in January 2019 when she started menstruating out of schedule and could not find sanitary pads in nearly 250km. “It was like a slap on my face and opened my eyes to reality,” she said.
The cloth pads being distributed as part of her latest campaign, Bleed in Peace during Covid-19, are being produced by Anahat for Change Foundation, an NGO that works on women’s health and child safety. “A group of women in Diamond Harbour is making them now and it is the only source of livelihood for them during the lockdown,” said Purvi Tanwani, co- founder of Anahat.
It was the uncertainty of the pandemic that forced Ananya to seek “sustainable options”. “The cloth pads are leak-proof and with every pack we give a user manual, which says the pads have to be dried under direct sunlight. If properly used, the pads can last for several months, which will not only take care of the immediate needs of the women but also empower them for the entire duration of the Covid-19 crisis, however long that may be. Cloth pads are also a familiar product, easy to use and maintain for women belonging to marginalised communities,” she said.
Both Ananya and Anahat have received grants from the German consulate to distribute kits to women in Bengal.