When it comes to India, the scenario of menstrual hygiene is pretty bad. Even today, when there are economical options of staying clean during that time of the month, many women from the lower strata of the society are still forced to turn to unhygienic means such as using rags made from clothes, leaves, sand, husk, among others to manage their menstrual cycle.
According to a 2015- 2016 report by the National Family Health Survey, only 48 per cent women use sanitary napkins during their periods in rural India. Even in urban areas, the number is just 78 per cent, which is alarming.
Aware of the primitive methods used by poor women, IT employee Renee Grace decided to distribute sanitary napkins in all government schools of the State and create awareness about the importance of maintaining hygiene during the monthly cycle through her initiative, Dignity Drive.
“I take an active part in my company’s outreach programmes under the CSR initiative. Apart from that, I used to give sanitary napkins to my maid and her daughter at home and would often listen to the kind of problems others like them face during that time. It got me thinking that what many of us take for granted, others can’t even afford. So I posted a simple message on Facebook about distributing pads to women from the slums and many in my circle pitched in with donations,” recalls Renee who works in the HR department of an IT company.
To get an understanding into the mindset of the women she was going to be dealing with, Renee did a six-week survey in the Rasoolpura slum. “I spoke to over 150 women there and found that some of them used leaves to manage their menstruation. I was appalled and told them about the ill-effects of resorting to such methods,” says Renee who cites old wives tales and myths about menstruation as a major reason for lack of awareness.
She started Dignity Drive in February in 2017 which she describes as “an initiative to help create awareness about menstrual hygiene”. Joined by her friends, Aishwarya K, Kranthi Ramella and Jaisri Ram (a donor based in Ahmedabad), she visits one government school every Saturday to distribute cotton sanitary napkins and tells the girls about menstrual hygiene.
In one session she did at the Yousufguda government high school, she told the girls about the importance of grooming and general cleanliness. The students, from Class 6 to 10 listened attentively as she gave them tips on disposing off the pads and benefits of clean diet during the cycle. While she admits, that many girls are very aware of their options, there are still those who need guidance. “They all said yes when we asked them if they use pads, but many were using one pad for 12 hours. Reasons vary that the flow wasn’t enough or they want the pads to last for their entire cycle. They don’t know that they are opening themselves up to a raft of infections and to toxic shock,” adds Renee who shares one case of a student which left her deeply disturbed.
“The teachers told me this particular student used to be a bright kid who had suddenly started keeping to herself and bunking school. When I spoke to her, she told me that her mother had passed away and her father was a labourer. With no one at home, she found it difficult to maintain her monthly cycle. On probing further, she told me that she had been using an old rag to manage the blood flow and would experience a lot of pain and vaginal thrush even after her cycle was over,” shares Renee who took the child to the doctor for a checkup. The medical examination revealed that using the old rag repeatedly had led to an infection that had spread to the girl’s fallopian tubes. A strong course of antibiotics later, Renee tells us that the girl is healthy now.
Since she started, Renee has helped improve the lives of over 7000 girls from places such as ZPHS Jagathgirigutta, Appampalli, Muchintala and Perur in Mahboobnagar, Jogulamba in Gadwal, Domakonda degree college to name a few.
“We are now planning to get government school authorities to set up a sanitary napkin vending machine and an incinerator at the premises. That way the girls can dispose of the napkins easily and it’s also eco-friendly,” says Renee.
To volunteer or make a donation, contact: 87909 60909