Making change happen
Binita Das spotlights how menstrual hygiene campaign is changing lives in rural Bengal
Kiran Bauri, a teenaged Class 12 student of Dhurohi village in West Bengal's Purulia district, has been for years using her limited pocket money to educate local women about the health benefits of using sanitary napkins.
"Once I attended a meeting and learnt about the benefits of sanitary napkins during the menstrual cycle. I tried to make others understand that using a mere cloth can cause diseases. Even if they agreed, those girls had no money to spend on napkins," Bauri said.
Bauri has spent between Rs 100 and Rs 200 a month since she was in Class 9 to buy napkins from the machine installed in her school -- and giving it to village girls for free. Her father, a retired government support staff in Jhalda block, never opposed her.
"For them, I buy three pads for Rs 10 from my school. Now, some of those who have formed this habit pay me. Currently, I spend Rs 50 for the ones who are still not ready to pay," the do-gooder of Hutmura Harimati Girls' High School said.
District Magistrate Alokesh Prasad Roy, who came to Purulia in 2017, said: "We found out that only 15 per cent of women used sanitary napkins in Purulia. Shockingly, they used old cloth and cow dung that can cause serious health problems. Then we started various campaigns on menstrual hygiene involving school children."
Roy has named his dream project 'Udaan' -- sanitary napkin making for menstrual hygiene management, supported by UNICEF. It will be formally launched on October 2 which will enable Kanyashree (a flagship scheme of West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government aimed at improving the life and status of girls) beneficiaries to buy napkins at a nominal rate and also spread awareness.
However, Bauri has been doing this all by herself for a long time without thinking about any monetary loss or gain.
Vending machines were installed as a part of CSR projects of some companies in some blocks of the district. Seeing a good response, the district administration installed these vending machines in the primary health centres of all the blocks but faced difficulty in maintaining the supply chain. "Under Udaan, every sub-division will have a machine that will disperse almost 3,000 napkins per day. There are around 30,000 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in Purulia. Some women of these groups have been trained and the production is going on," Roy said.
Thinking about the profits of these self-help workers, the pads will not be distributed for free. "Free distribution did not create much impact. As of now, the nominally priced napkins will be distributed in
various schools for them to purchase. Once we make profit we will see if anything can be done for the ones who cannot really afford to spend," Roy told IANS.
(Binita Das was in Purulia on a media visit organised by the Purulia District Administration and UNICEF, West Bengal. The views expressed are strictly personal)