New Delhi: Raised by a single parent – her mother – and an elder sister, 23-year-old Aanya Wig grew up seeing these two women in her life do it all. From working full-time to paying the bills and running a house, the two superwomen in Aanya’s life made her believe that women are capable of doing everything and are constrained by nothing. But as her worldview widened beyond her household, the reality of the unequal world where women don’t have it all hit her. “They (the world) don’t see them as leaders. They are always seen as secondary,” says Aanya, who used this as a motivation to empower women.
An alumnus of the Lady Shri Ram College (LSR), University of Delhi, Aanya says,
In the second year of my graduation, I realised that most girls in India don’t have the kind of access the LSR has given me in just one year. I wanted to provide that access, knowledge, and resources to girls across the country.
And, that’s how Aanya along with three batch mates – Soumya, Anam and Arunima – initiated Girl Up Rise, a student collective under the aegis of the United Nations Foundation, focusing on women and women’s health, especially menstrual hygiene management. In 2010, Girl Up was founded by the United Nations Foundation (UNF) as the first-of-its-kind initiative dedicated to supporting adolescent girls’ education, health, and safety. It is a global movement that engages, trains, and mobilises girls and young people of all identities to be leaders.
Aanya, Co-Founder of Girl Up Rise says,
By being under the United Nations Foundation, we got their brand stamp. We started towards the end of 2019 and back then, Girl Up was too new as a movement in India. There were only two Girl Ups.
Talking more about their initiative, Aanya said,
Soon after we started, the pandemic happened, resulting in a lockdown and restrictions for almost two years. We majorly relied on online advocacy and initiated campaigns like #SpotTheStigma to end period poverty.
Spot The Stigma targeted two components of menstrual hygiene management – access to sanitary absorbents like napkins or reusable pads and access to menstrual education.
To improve access to sanitary products, we initiated a fundraiser and managed to collect Rs. 35,000 which was used to purchase and distribute 10,000 sanitary napkins. Those pads were distributed among people from different communities in six states.
To create awareness about menstrual hygiene, the team also collaborates with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and conducts workshops to educate young children about periods and bust myths. Aanya says,
When holding workshops with adolescents, we ensure boys are also a part of those sessions. The aim is to start early and educate both girls and boys about periods at the age of 10 or 13. It is challenging to tell a 25-year-old that watering a plant when on period won’t kill a plant. But kids are more open to listening. We tell them that we touched a jar of pickle on our periods and it didn’t go bad, you should also try.
To achieve the larger goal of ending period poverty through education, the girls have curated the ‘Menstrual Health Module’ focusing on periods and puberty. Giving out information about the modules delivered during workshops, Aanya says,
Our modules are in-depth, covering a range of topics – bodily changes, the colour of blood and what it signifies, and when they should see a doctor. Since we don’t have a doctor accompanying us, we can’t answer their questions about heavy bleeding or prolonged periods. In such situations, we guide them to visit the nearest government hospital and seek help. Though we have prepared these modules ourselves, they are vetted by gynecologists. Also, since the content is in vernacular languages, we have got it checked too to avoid any miscommunication or loss of information during translation.
The team also focuses on capacitating women to demand clean water and free or affordable sanitary napkins from their leaders and representatives. Aanya says,
We tell them that you shouldn’t ask for only food or water. As a woman, it is your right to ask for free pads and clean water so that we don’t always have to intervene in society. We can’t always provide them with menstrual hygiene products.
Recently, Girl Up Rise (now known as Her Haq) joined hands with Parkshala, a Noida-based NGO working on the education of underprivileged children, to break the taboos attached to menstruation. 65 children (47 girls and 18 boys) over 10 years of age participated in the workshop.
Priya Gupta, Founder of NGO Parkshala, shared her experience of holding a workshop on periods – the word which is often whispered – and said,
You can’t educate girls in isolation. They already know a lot about it. You have to have the boys in the mix. The session included the basics of menstruation like the biological process of it and what girls and women go through physically, emotionally and mentally while they are on their periods.
Ms Gupta says that the information given to children was not something new or out of the box. It is more about normalising the conversation and breaking the wall. She says,
You don’t have to address ‘periods’ by other names like ‘it is that time of the month’ or ‘I have a stomachache’. You should be able to say, ‘I can’t come to school/work or need to leave early because I am on my period’. During the session, it was wonderful to watch young boys answer questions like, ‘What will you do if your sister or mom is on period?’ They said we will give them a hot water bag and ensure they are well rested.
In 2022, Girl Up Rise transitioned into Her Haq, a not-for-profit organisation working towards gender equality and women empowerment. The organisation is now helmed by Aanya and Soumya Singhal, the co-founders, and has three pillars – menstrual hygiene management, legal literacy, and financial literacy. It also focuses on four of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – good health and well-being; quality education; gender inequality; reduced inequalities.
The initiative now has a team of 80+ volunteers and is largely self-funded for daily operations and relies on donations in kind.
Her Haq is in the process of registration and aims to expand their horizon by bringing increased attention to the other two pillars – legal literacy and financial literacy. Aanya says,
We are hoping to soon launch a program where we mentor young girls to start their own initiatives and create a gender-equal world.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diarrhoea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.