Source: The Hitavada      Date: 13 Aug 2017 11:53:29

Gargi Vairagare with students of New English High School, Congress Nagar


By Nitisha Jain,

DO NOT enter the kitchen. Don’t touch the food, you will contaminate it. You are forbidden to enter holy places or indulge in divine acts... The list of do’s and don’ts continues. These are the things that women can easily relate to because they face them at some point of their lives or the other. Unfortunately, menstruation is still a taboo in Indian society and women’s best kept secret. There are lots of myths and misgivings associated with menstruation as even today women are considered impure when they are on periods. Women go through a lot for something that is absolutely natural. 

The urban sector, at least, is more open and deals with it practically but in rural parts of the country, especially in slums, the condition is appalling. People do not want to talk about it, they shy away and this biological phenomenon is never discussed as menstruation is considered a social stigma.

According to UNICEF, only 13 per cent of girls in India are aware of what menstruation is before they start their periods. Latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 report shows that use of sanitary napkins among Indian women is 48.5% in rural, 77.5% in urban and 57.6% total. Myths and taboos about periods keep girls away from school and lead to health problems. Girls, in their growing years, hesitate to discuss things related to menses and keep their misconceptions to themselves. It is time to open up and give priority to menstrual hygiene and let children know that it is a normal biological process. It is time to make them understand how important menstrual hygiene is for a healthy life.

It is impossible to predict when and where one would experience their first menstruation. In such cases awareness plays a major role. It has been found that girls, mostly unaware of the menstruation process, have to face embarrassment and as a result lose confidence. A well-informed girl can handle things more maturely without panicking.

But now hopefully, things are changing for the better. NGO RISE (Rising Infinitely for Social Empowerment) has taken up the Herculean task to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene and promote use of sanitary napkins. RISE is the brainchild of Gargi Vairagare. It was founded when this young, energetic and clear-headed girl in her college days witnessed a heart-rending incident when an orphan girl was begging for help and was ready to do all household chores but did not want to return to the orphanage. Pratiek Chamat, Saurabh Thakre, Vishal Joshi, Mona Popli, Madhuri Ingle, Roopa Kumar are the young brigade and strength of RISE.

Under its unique project “My Health”, RISE has now taken an initiative to spread awareness on ‘menstrual hygiene’. The young team of RISE, under the project, installs sanitary pads vending machines and incinerators in schools to help girls cope with those difficult days with ease without compromising with their health by using age old methods. The initiative was started in January this year at New English High School, Congress Nagar.

Members of RISE, along with the guests and health panel, installing the vending machine at Sudarshan High School

The best part is that a team of Gynaecologists Dr Nutan Deo and Dr Sunita Mahatme, Nutritionist Malvika Fulwani, Counsellors Surbhi Nayyar and Urmi Chakravorty and Trainer Roopa Kumar, who gives complete demo of the machine, visits schools and breaks down the stigma around menstruation. The team caters to all sort of queries involving periods and helps adolescent girls open up and discuss things without hesitation. “Before starting the project in schools, we did some research in slum areas like what do these underprivileged women do when they are on their periods. That is when some horrifying facts came to fore,” said Gargi.

“If we are promoting use of sanitary pads, then we are promoting wastage because safe disposal of napkins is a must. Hence, to make sure we keep the environment clean, incinerators are also installed and cleaning staff of the school is trained to use it and dispose it safely in eco-friendly manner. The pads are organic as they are made of cotton and easy to dispose. We order these napkins from women self-help groups in Durg, Chhattisgarh and Surat, Gujarat. This way we give business to those needy women and help girls stay healthy,” she informed.

Recently, a vending machine and incinerator were installed at Sudarshan High School, Itwari, located in a red light area. This school was chosen because it caters mostly to children of sex workers and poor families. To ensure children are not burdened, RISE members also kept a coin box near the machine so the girls can ask a teacher and get a napkin for just Rs 5 and the same money is then used for refilling.

But the task not just ends there. They also have to keep a check on misuse of napkins at schools. “We do not hand over the keys right away. We refill the machine as and when we get a call from the school. We have a count of the number of pads inside the machine and the coins available. This way things are managed properly,” Gargi said. The schools, too, are hailing this initiative on menstrual hygiene awareness. “The task taken up by RISE is praiseworthy as awareness is must. They have helped us, the teachers, in a big way. Now, our girls will not have to go back home as we have the solution right in our school,” said L D Bhoyar, Principal of Sudarshan High School.

The project also includes interactive sessions with the girls helping them to open up their mind. This initiative has helped the girls in clearing their doubts, Bhoyar said.
For Gargi, this is just the beginning. The issue needs a deeper involvement of teachers and students alike. The misgivings are too strong to go away so easily. “Many adolescent girls still follow traditional methods and use cloth during periods. It is a totally unhealthy practice not only for the girls but also people around them,” she said.

Gargi is among the very few who have followed their wish of helping the needy. There is still a long way to go, she felt. “We are not even halfway through. There is so much to be done and we wish through RISE and with help of kind-hearted people, we are able to change lives and make girls confident and smart.” In order to ensure that the donors’ money is not spent wrongly, members of RISE donate the material instead of giving cheques or money. They stay in touch with the donors and keep a follow-up and let the donors know of what is required. It is still a small drop in the ocean but as they say, every drop counts!