- Project Baala was established in 2016
- The initiative has distributed over 2.7 lakh pads for free since March 2020
- Each Project Baala pad can be used for 70 washes and last for 18-24 months
New Delhi: According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, only 36 per cent or about 12.1 out of 33.6 crore menstruating women in the country are using sanitary napkins, locally or commercially produced. When it comes to menstrual hygiene and health, it has been seen that women and girls living in rural areas, urban slums, shelter homes and economically poor households face multiple challenges ranging from lack of awareness to lack of access to safe menstrual products. These challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-19 induced lockdown was announced in March 2020, due to the restrictions in mobility and shutting down of manufacturing units, not only did the supply of menstrual products like sanitary napkins got affected but various awareness generation programmes on Menstrual Hygiene Management were halted. On Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021, we bring to you the story of Project Baala, an initiative that continued working towards promoting safe and sustainable menstrual hygiene and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the menstrual health of women and girls in need.
Started by two friends, Aradhana Rai Gupta and Soumya Dabirwal in 2016 to focus on solving problems around menstruation through awareness and sustainability, Project Baala has remained active even during the ongoing pandemic. From March 2020 till now, the initiative has provided over 2.7 lakh sanitary pads free of cost to more than 90,000 poor women and girls including those who migrated back to their villages during the lockdown.
While speaking to NDTV, Ms Gupta said when the nationwide lockdown was announced, the sanitary napkin was not included in the list of essential items because of which for a brief period, a shortage of pads was observed in the market. She said,
It was a difficult time for school going girls especially because they used to get sanitary napkins from their school on a monthly basis but when the schools were closed due to the pandemic, a lot of girls had to depend on measures like using dirty clothes to manage their periods. This was mainly due to financial restrictions because many families in the communities we work with lost their jobs and menstrual hygiene not something they would priorities when even putting food on the table becomes a matter of huge worry.
She further said that for women migrants, the long road home without access to any type of toilet facilities made menstruation even more challenging.
Improving Access To Sanitary Pads And Menstrual Hygiene Awareness During The Pandemic Though Partnerships
For 32-year-old Mona Singh, a resident of Wazirpur, Delhi, who lives in one a room house with her husband and three young children including one daughter and two sons, periods are not a comfortable topic to talk about. Her biggest worry during periods is the embarrassment that she may have to face if someone in the house finds bloodstain on her clothes or bedsheet. As her husband, a mason gets less work, the resources became too limited for her to buy pads. She had to go back to the practice of using cloth during menstruation. Ms Singh said,
Because of the long quarantine and COVID-19 norms, my whole family has been staying indoors in one room since the pandemic started, robbing me of any privacy during menstruation. For few months I used cloth but then a volunteer from Project Baala visited the area I live in. They were distributing reusable cloth pads to women in the area for free. I also took the kit. There were three pads in it. I have been using these pads since then. A single pad can last for about eight hours. When I change, I wash the used one. Drying takes time which becomes uncomfortable for me because it is difficult to find a discreet corner to keep the pad for drying.
Along with a kit containing three pads, Ms Singh and her husband were also given an awareness workshop on the importance of menstrual hygiene. According to Ms Gupta, since the pandemic has started, the pad distribution and awareness generation efforts are being carried out in partnership with 20 non-governmental organisations that are working on ground across the country during the COVID-19 outbreak.
No matter, how hard the situation is, it is essential that women and girls have access to safe and hygienic menstrual management. I am thankful to all our partners and the volunteers called Project Baala associates who are out there helping those in need despite the risk of getting sick themselves. With the help of our partners, we have been able to distribute pads free of cost to women in 17 states including Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Bihar and pockets of Nepal, Ghana and Tanzania,” said Ms Gupta.
The NGO has two pad manufacturing units. The cost of manufacturing and packing of the pads are being covered under some CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects, Ms Gupta said. Apart from this, the NGO partners with state governments as well where the state buys the pads from them and distributes for free. Ms Gupta shared,
During the lockdown, the state governments were too busy in revamping the health sector but from the second month, many state governments resumed their welfare services including providing sanitary napkins. The Delhi government also partnered with us for the free distribution of sanitary napkins in slum areas in the capital. The only issue we face while partnering with governments and authorities is that they look for quick solutions and usually go for disposable pads without giving thought to the environmental damage being caused by these. So we have to level up our advocacy to convince them to opt for free distribution of reusable pads instead of disposables.
The NGO has also started a livelihood programme on pilot basis where women can sell the pads directly to their community members and earn money.
Each kit contains three pads and costs Rs. 200. Each pad can be used for up to two years and thus the cost is actually negligible if calculated per month, said Ms Gupta.
Sita Sharma, a 45-year-old resident of a village in Alwar, Rajasthan who works as Project Baala associate belongs to an orthodox family where topics like menstruation are taboo. Not just her family, but many families in her village, while growing up, treated menstruation as a bad thing because of many myths surrounding it. However, after participating in a workshop organised by Project Baala, her outlook towards periods changed. Ms Sharma said,
Being a part of the Baala Associates programme, it gives me immense happiness to touch many hearts and help the women in need. There are some challenges that we face while conducting meetings with women and girls on menstruation hygiene management. Many older women still frown upon the fact that we can talk freely about this important subject. We also sometimes face negative attitude from men of the community but we try to convince them about why the women in their family need this training and how important it is for them also to encourage women to practice safe menstruation hygiene management. I have learnt a lot as a Project Baala associate. I have conducted workshops in small groups and individually during the pandemic and distributed pads. It gives me immense satisfaction in serving society during these difficult times. I know that this will help young girls and women with their basic needs.
Project Baala Is Making A Difference By Producing Sanitary Pads Which Can Be Used For Up To Two Years
The pads manufactured and distributed by Project Baala have a super-absorbent layer at the core and can last for up to 70 washes or for about 18-24 months easily, as per the NGO. Therefore, women do not have to go out frequently to buy pads and put themselves at risk of catching the virus or spend money every month.
Talking about the future plan, Ms Gupta said that the NGO is working with some scientists from Sweden on an innovation that aims to revolutionise menstrual hygiene. She said,
We are working on a product which will reduce the need of washing, drying time and increase the life of the product from the current two years to five years. This will be very helpful in areas with water shortage like Rajasthan and Bihar. Not only this, the pads we are working on will help in tackling the problem of increasing plastic waste that also includes a lot of menstrual waste. In this way, we will be able to take our efforts towards sustainability to the next level while ensuring that women and girls in the community are safe and healthy during menstruation.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. 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 highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. 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 diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.