Mumbai: For decades women across the world, especially in India, have been shying away from the topic safe menstrual practices. Ignorance coupled with stigma towards menstruation has led to women using hazardous products like ashes, old clothes and leaves during their menstrual cycles. Only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins. Disturbed by this grim reality, 27-year-old Chinu Kwatra from Mumbai decided to bring a difference in the untapped section of the society – tribal women.
Chinu’s interest in menstrual hygiene stems from the fact that he has always been surrounded by women,
Since childhood I was always curious about periods and when I enquired about it, my mother explained it to me instead of brushing it under the carpet. It was only much later I realised that periods are considered impure even in a progressive society like Mumbai. During my research, I identified tribal areas in Thane and Airoli. That’s where it all began, recalls Chinu.
Three years after he opened his NGO Aarna foundation in 2014, he began his journey of educating tribal women about menstrual hygiene management. It was during this time when he quit his well-paid marketing job to effectively manage his foundation’s causes like educating sex worker’s children and cleaning city’s Dadar beach.
Eco-Friendly Sanitary Napkins Make A Debut In Tribal Areas
Realising that regular sanitary napkins are made from materials that take hundreds of years to decompose, Chinu ditched the regular non-biodegradable pads and striked a deal with a local manufacturer to make cloth-based eco-friendly napkins.
I didn’t want to introduce practices that would harm the environment in the long run. Thus, I first arranged compostable napkins, studied about ways to handle menstrual waste and then started my visits to tribal areas, says the environment lover.
Chinu, along with his bunch of volunteers organised several workshops on menstrual hygiene practices and disposal methods. The volunteers even helped the women build small pits right outside their houses for treating menstrual waste.
Since sanitary napkins are eco-friendly they can degrade on their own. We told the women to wrap it in a newspaper and dump it in the pits, says Chinu.
What started with a couple of women gradually grew to hundreds and within a period of four months, 300 women ditched unsafe practices like using ragged clothes and opted for eco-friendly napkins. Every month, two packets (Rs 35 each) containing eight sanitary pads are distributed among the tribal women for free.
How One Movement Led To Expansion Of Menstrual Hygiene Campaign
After receiving a positive feedback from tribal women, Chinu spread its NGO’s wings and ventured into other arenas and menstruation issues.
He approached the municipal schools in the city and introduced his period workshops for girls and boys. To bridge the gender gap with respect to menstruation awareness, Chinu started taking classes exclusively for boys.
To break away from the shackles of period stigma, it is important that there is an open dialogue on the issue initiated by both the genders. We educated students from a municipal school in Mankhurd, adds Chinu.
Bringing in alternatives of sanitary napkins, the NGO has also introduced menstrual cups in chawls and societies of Mumbai.
Adopt Women And Sponsor Sanitary Napkins
Being a self-funded organisation, arranging funds has always been a challenge for Chinu. All his campaign are funded from the money the NGO raises social media. To ensure that finances don’t get in the way of his noble journey, he recently started a new concept of adoption.
Under this initiative anyone can adopt a woman and sponsor eco-friendly sanitary napkins for a tribal woman. All one has to do is contact the Aaran foundation and donate money.
Depending on the amount of money one wants to shell out we have created different plans under the adoption initiative. For instance, if anyone wants to sponsor for a year he/she can pay Rs 840 and Rs 70 for one month. So far, 40 women have been adopted for a year, adds Chinu.
Making Menstruation A Celebration
Menstruation is not a dirty word. In fact, bleeding every month is an assurance to a woman that she is healthy and fit. So why is there a stigma in the first place? Besides accepting periods as a natural bodily function, we must also celebrate them, says Chinu.
With this very thought, Chinu and his volunteers celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day this year with a unique initiative. The volunteers stationed themselves right outside railway stations in Mumbai and gave out greeting cards to women, making them feel special. 500 cards with messages like ‘Periods are no shame’ and ‘Women are Superwomen’ were distributed.