New Delhi: In May 2019, when Rahil Dungdung, a 41-year-old woman in Simdega district of Jharkhand, was asked about the method she uses to manage menstruation, she answered hesitantly, “ganda kapda” (dirty cloth). Now, not only is she aware of multiple safer and more hygienic ways to manage her periods but she is also spreading awareness on the subject and even producing pads that are bio-degradable and is earning a livelihood. She is one of the 3,000 women who were trained by the district administration of Simdega to break the taboo around menstruation. Simdega administration started a campaign called ‘Garima Abhiyan’ in May 2019, in collaboration with United Nation’s Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and eco-friendly ways of managing it in the district, which is one of the 112 aspirational districts of NITI (National Institute for Transforming India) Aayog. Aspirational districts are identified by the central government as country’s poorest districts that need maximum assistance in development.
While talking to NDTV about the initiative, Biswambharnath Naik, an aspirational district fellow of NITI Aayog posted in Simdega said,
This district is majorly rural with a population of 2.5 lakh menstruating girls and women. We found that most of the girls and women here did not have any awareness regarding the use of sanitary napkins. They were using rug or pieces of sack to soak the menstrual blood. It was shocking to see that women sometimes re-used clothes and other material used as absorbents, without washing and drying them properly. Most of these women to avoid embarrassment of these rags being displayed in public view would simply store these discreetly among their other clothes without properly drying these after washing. So our aim was to make them aware about more hygienic and safer options available in the market. But we realised that making them aware was not enough so we decided to plan an intensive intervention across the district and change the habit of using cloth instead of sanitary napkins. This is how we started ‘Garima Abhiyan’.
After conducting a series of campaigns under ‘Garima Abhiyan’ like ‘Chuppi Todo Campaign’ that focused on breaking the taboo and hesitation around menstruation and encourage women to talk about their periods, the focus was shifted towards encouraging women to use eco-friendly sanitary pads in order to keep the menstrual waste under check and keep from entering the already overfilled dumping yards and landfills and breed harmful bacteria. Satwik Mishra, another Aspiration District Fellow in Simdega said,
With this campaign, we organised workshops in all 964 Aanganwadi Centres, 780 Government Schools, 500 SHG centres across all 450 villages of the district, sensitising district’s entire population base of 6 Lakh.
According to Mr. Naik, the district administration collaborated with the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) and Udaipur based NGO – Jatan to provide industrial training to women to more than 100 women. He said,
The first phase of the initiative was to make them use the sanitary napkins. The next phase was to encourage them to usE plastic-free, biodegradable pads. Rather than producing chemical laden products that require incinerators for disposal, the district administration was keen to take up sustainable approaches. We told women the benefits of biodegradable sanitary pads and with the support from NULM we also provided them skill on manufacturing such pads.
He further said that women have formed more than 50 Self-Help Groups that are producing about 100-150 biodegradable pads each per day. The pads called ‘Missi Garima Pads’ are easily available in the village markets. ‘Missi’, in the local language of Simdega means sister. These are made by stitching four layers of cotton cloth which can be washed and reused. These are completely chemical-free pads. Women SHGs stitch cotton napkins in four varieties, priced between Rs 30 and Rs 50 per packet (8 pads). Each napkin takes about 10-15 minutes to stitch and can be reused for up to a year. Rahil Dungdung said,
Now that the taboo is starting to break, we are able to talk about it with each other and with men too. We are now capable of providing support and help when needed. This campaign has helped to not only learn about such a significant part of my life but has also helped ME become financially stronger.
In order to ensure that the impact of the campaign is not diminished, and more women adopt the practice of plastic-free period, Garima Abhiyan keeps conducting follow up meetings with SHGs and workshops with other women to motivate them to give up ‘dirty cloth’ and use biodegradable options which according to experts are not only environment-friendly but are also good hygienically.