Slum Dwellers Are Woefully Unaware Of Menstrual Hygiene Practices; This Duo Is Trying To Break The Stigma Around It
Ash, sand, sawdust, plastic – the things that we regard as ‘waste’ – are the options that millions of women in India take recourse to when it comes to menstrual hygiene. What’s waste for us are vital resources for women across rural, semi-urban and low-income areas during menstruation.
Dilip, a student of business management began organising blood donation camps during his college days. Soon enough, he realised that working in the social sector was his calling and decided to pursue a career in this field. He had previously worked with organisations like Red Cross Society, London, Akshayapatra Foundation. He also has a Master’s Degree in Social Welfare and Social Policy from Anglia Ruskin University.
When Dilip came back to India, he started working with Pollinate Energy, an Australian startup based on renewable energy in the context of slums in Bengaluru.
A volunteer from Australia working in the same organisation once asked him the status of menstrual health and hygiene in urban slums of India. “At that point of time, I had a blank expression on my face as I had never thought about it,” he told The Logical Indian. Upon researching, he found baffling facts like only 12% of the 450 million women in the country have a basic idea about what menstrual hygiene.
He decided to seek help from his long-time friend Sahana, who has a Master’s degree in Media Law and has worked with organisations like Janagraha. The duo quit their pre-existing engagements only to seek answers to the dire situation which brings about such baffling statics. They conducted a baseline research and the results of which were frightening. To bring about a culpable solution to the situation, they founded Sukhibhava, a Bengaluru-based organisation striving to bring an end to the age-old cultural taboo around menstruation and creating a mainstream awareness about it.
How does it work
Sukhibhava was founded on 2013 and started functioning from 2014. “Initially, we decided upon a product based approach, as we felt that availability of alternative options will be a solution to the problem. But after one year of trial and error, we figured, the problem roots much deeper underneath. We realised the answer is not product-based.” The organisation works on four major principles – awareness, stigma, accessibility and affordability. All their solutions are based on these parameters.
Sukhibhava works with women in urban slums of Bengaluru and rural areas of Uttarakhand. They are currently involved with hundred villages in total. They educate women about menstrual hygiene and provide them affordable menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads, menstrual cups and cloth pads through local micro-entrepreneurs. Eradication of stigma and creating awareness about menstrual health and hygiene is done through the help of trainers, who belong to the same community.
The micro-entrepreneurs, on the other hand, help in creating viability for cloth pads and menstrual cups. Sukhibhava supports these micro-entrepreneurs for three months, helping them build their networks and ensuring that they set up sustainable micro businesses.
A challenging road
Challenges have been different from time to time, says Dilip. At present, their challenge is the path to scale the model of intervention further. “Major choc-a-bloc comes while we are trying to create newer chapters. Funding the project and finding partners is one blockage we are looking at. Even today women don’t see menstrual health and hygiene as important. Thus their take back after an hour-long awareness session is too less. They are all concerned about tangible benefits.” Thus, Sukhibhava has partnered with several other organisations which cater to creating possibilities of benefits. For example, they are partnering with Vitamin Angels to distribute vitamin supplements to these women. This also pushes them to attend awareness sessions. Thus looking for partners often becomes a challenging task.
Since it is a human resource intensive organisation, where trainers and micro-entrepreneurs work on the field, implementation cost or funding of the project often seem like a challenge. Another challenge is the difference in the mentality of women which varies according to the geographical location. Women living in urban-slums of Bengaluru mostly work as construction labourers or housemaids and the value of time for them is very high. Thus at times, it becomes difficult for them to commit three hours for the awareness sessions.
Most of the brunt, however, is borne by the trainers or the community leaders who create awareness on the ground by talking to women and creating a dialogue on the tabooed topic of menstruation. “These women are often looked down upon by their own community, but they are the ones who are actually bringing about the desired change,” Dilip said.
At this juncture, he cited the example of a community from the rural region of Uttarakhand where the topic of menstrual hygiene was completely off the tab. But after sensitization and creation of a successful dialogue women have actually started talking about it in common spaces. “This is an example of an impact that we have successfully created, mothers are now talking to their daughters about it,” Dilip said, confidence resonating through his voice.
On the end note Dilip says, Sukhibhava aims to reach out to ten million women by 2020. “I am working for that day when every woman will have access to hygienic menstrual practices.”