“The stigma that menstrual health and hygiene carries in India is something that I am unable to understand."
The first time I heard about Ananya Maskara was through her grandmother at a school fete. Ananya’s grandmother sat at a stall urging everyone who was walking past to come and buy scented candles.
She said, “I am selling these to help my granddaughter. She uses the proceeds from these sales to supply bio-degradable sanitary napkins to girls from underprivileged backgrounds.”
I was happy to help and bought a few candles that day.
Today, as I speak to Ananya, I understand the pride that her grandmother felt towards her. All of 16, Ananya is a grade 10 student at the British School in Delhi, who for the last year and a half has been meticulously working towards helping underprivileged girls at various government schools in Delhi get access to bio-degradable sanitary napkins.
When asked why she chose to work in this area she says, “The stigma that menstrual health and hygiene carries in India is something that I am unable to understand. Buying a pack of sanitary napkins at a pharmacy makes the person selling it squirm so much that I am left wondering what wrong I have done.
“Despite being in a progressive school, I see how uncomfortable the boys and even some girls feel while discussing periods. It was the need to change this that I decided to work in this area. Lack of awareness and knowledge is what I feel leads to such embarrassment.”
Ananya started having conversations with the house-help to understand the practices they follow when they have their periods. What kind of napkins did they use? How frequently they need to change it etc.
“Lack of accessibility and a huge amount of stigma that surrounds menstruation is what I want to change. Having conversations about it helps hugely,” she says.
“Sanitary napkins as we understand them are expensive and is not something that everyone can afford. While the didis at home mentioned using cloth pads, they were always worried about leakage and staining. While working, they don’t have the luxury of taking long breaks even during their period.”
Ananya now works in collaboration with an NGO based in Vizag called Sampoorn Swatchhta that employs underprivileged women to make these biodegradable sanitary napkins. Every month Ananya supplies more than 500 sanitary napkins to Khushi, an NGO based in Delhi.
“The happiness that these girls feel when they get these sanitary napkins is so heartening, Anjali is one such girl who expressed her sense of freedom when she was given the napkin. Anjali is 15 and wishes to become a doctor. Given her interest in the medical sciences, she did know about pads in the market but could never afford one. Knowing that my work is making a difference to someone’s life in such a positive manner is what inspires me to keep going,” says Ananya.
For more information, you can email Ananya at – firstname.lastname@example.org
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