Why is it that only urban women have more access to menstrual products and knowledge, why women are seen as primary forbearers to collect and store water, why we have not raised the women to call the police directly (in an emergency), these are the kind of questions Kolipaka Spurthi always ponders upon.
A menstrual literacy advocate and an eco-feminist social worker, Spurthi says it is not just up to the government to make it better for the women, “I can learn and help share the information. Together we can do a lot,” she adds. The 29-year-old left her ‘perfect and comfortable’ job when she found her inner calling in make the world a better place for women.
“I had so much energy and drive in me to do something, I was not able to understand and reach my potential,” says Spurthi who has a Master’s degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences when asked how her advocacy began.
Spurthy is currently working as the consultant for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) which is supported by UNICEF. Spurthi with her ‘amazing’ team pioneered many menstrual advocacy programmes in hinterlands of Telangana in places such as Nalgonda and Asifabad. “We connected with so many across the country who have been doing the same, brought them all on one platform, shared knowledge, and worked together,” she explains.
Their team experimented with existing knowledge on public platforms and did an exercise with the young girls in Asifabad. “Menstrual advocacy is not just about what about menstrual products to use, it comes very late in life. It’s more about finding our voice and strength,” says Spurthi. As a part of this project, she asked the girls some introspective questions such as what they like about being a girl and what they don’t. “It was the first time girls there interacted with a city-bred woman like me,” said Spurthi.
As a proponent of the thought that women have to develop their agency and their voice, she is now actively campaigning for a fully functional women’s commission in Telangana under the banner – ‘Women’s Commission Matters’. It is a community-led campaign to bring focus on women’s safety and security issues in the State. She had filed a petition on change.org, an online platform, which so far had garnered around 10,000 signatures.
“We are not questioning the government, but asking for our right to have a women’s commission with a chairperson, members, and a fully functional online portal with data bank of all the crimes related to women, research work, contacts of Internal Complaints Committees in all organisations, social audit of all places such as shelter homes where women reside,” explains Spurthi.
Around 100 people are working for this cause and strategising their work on making the place better. The team feels anybody who fights for a cause have to empower themselves, thus they began reading the Women’s Commission Act in a group of three to five people.
Spurthi observes there is a lack of female participation in many sectors, legal knowledge, and when it’s something to do with the women, they are told only to believe the culture and not question it. “If you go to any rural area, you see men wearing jeans not dhotis anymore. But it is a problem when women try to challenge anything,” says Spurthi. There are many such stereotypes the team is trying to break and the social worker stresses the need for a lot of awareness programmes especially with the police.