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Menstrual Hygiene Day: Gurugram teenagers help migrant labourers on the road

Jatan Sansthan, an Udaipur-based NGO has its centre in Neemuch Kheda Basti. During the lockdown, women have the option of stitching the cloth pads at home in a safe environment.Premium
Jatan Sansthan, an Udaipur-based NGO has its centre in Neemuch Kheda Basti. During the lockdown, women have the option of stitching the cloth pads at home in a safe environment.

The ‘We Stand with Her’ campaign, started by seven teenagers, hopes to uphold the dignity of migrant women by providing them with hygienic, sanitary products for their period

In the past two months, Zoya Sethi and her friends would often discuss how their lives had changed due to the lockdown. A resident of Gurugram, the 14-year-old would also take in the changes happening elsewhere in the country, especially related to migrant workers and their long march back home.

As she processed the magnitude of the crisis, a thought struck her: “What if it was me out there, walking to my home far away? How would I manage my periods then?" Sethi shared her thoughts with her school friends, and seven of them decided to do something about the issue.

Earlier this week, this group of teens—Zaara, Zoya, Tanya, Sanaa, Ishaan, Arjan and Aryaman—all 13-15 years old, launched a fund-raising initiative, ‘We Stand With Her". On the Instagram page of the campaign, they describe it as an effort to “uphold the dignity of the migrant women, who are walking back home with added discomfort. Support them with hygienic, sanitary necessities for their period."

According to Ishaan Mittal, one of the seven enthusiastic campaign members, while other essentials such as food and water are being organised for the migrant population on the move, sanitary hygiene—a necessity for women—has not been taken into account. This is something they would like to change.

The campaign has grown organically—conversations on WhatsApp and video calls gave way to rigorous research about similar initiatives elsewhere in the world. The team began to scout for start-ups willing to manufacture sanitary napkins for the vulnerable communities.

Ishaan Mittal handing over boxes of sanitary napkins to the Red Cross team.
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Ishaan Mittal handing over boxes of sanitary napkins to the Red Cross team.

This proved to be a challenge as there were not too many homegrown manufacturers of menstrual products, and most of them were not operating at full capacities due to the lockdown. “Moreover, some of the kits were very expensive," says Mittal. So the parents were roped in to find the right manufacturing partner. One feedback they got was that women in migrant families were not very comfortable with disposable napkins and preferred cloth.

Research led them to Jatan Sansthan, an Udaipur-based not-for-profit, which has been working on all aspects of reproductive health for nearly two decades now. The organisation has a project, titled Uger, which was started in 2011. Meaning “new beginnings" in Mewari language, Uger creates and focuses on cloth menstrual pads from pure cotton sourced locally which can be washed and reused. The idea is that cloth napkins are a good option if used hygienically. The project also trains women in rural areas to make their own napkins.

“We realised that these products were eco-friendly and could be used for at least 1.5 years, while also providing employment to women in villages " says Mittal.

This is how it works: the funds raised by the kids are directed to Jatan Sansthan, which then produces these cloth napkins and provides them to the campaign at a subsidized price.

“Access to menstrual hygiene has always been a challenge. But it has increased manifold during the pandemic," says Smriti Kedia, co-creator, Uger. India has around 355 million menstruating women and girls. According to figures by the ministry of health and family welfare, only 12% of these have access to safe sanitary products, while the majority relies on unsafe menstruation practices. These problems have only been compounded with the lockdown in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic.

So far, the government of India has been providing sanitary napkins to adolescent girls, grade 6 onwards, through schools and anganwadis. But with educational institutions shut during the lockdown, access to safe menstrual hygiene has become difficult. Girls are going back to using rags, husk or ash as options, which are extremely dangerous to their health. For migrant workers, it has become difficult to create pads out of cloth on the move. With no income, purchasing napkins from the market is out of the question.

What has also added to the crisis is that during the first phase of the lockdown, menstrual hygiene products were not counted as essential services. “We would keep requesting the logistic services to ship these out. It is only at the end of March that the Union government declared them as essential goods," says Monica Bindra, co-founded of the 16-month start-up, Laiqa, homegrown, premium, and biodegradable (93% biodegradable) brand of sanitary napkins.

To increase access to safe menstrual cloth pads during the lockdown, Uger—also a partner of Menstrual Health Alliance India—has engaged 20 women from the Neemuch Kheda basti in Udaipur to stitch these sustainable reusable pads. These are created while practicing social distancing measures. The Uger model is such that it allows women to stitch from home in a safe environment. “With the lockdown, some of these women have become the sole earning members in the family. It helps them as well," she says.

The response to the campaign has been great, with more than Rs1.5 lakhs having been raised in four days. So far, 600 pads have reached the kids in Gurugram, who have passed it on to Red Cross—their distribution partner. “There should not be any compromise in what is called bleeding with dignity," say Sethi and Mittal.

To donate to the campaign, write to westandwithher@gmail.com.

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