In the tribal village of Sallada in Udaipur, girls often didn’t turn up for classes. They feared that they were “unclean” during the time of their periods, just like they were too “unholy” to enter certain rooms in their houses, or to sleep on beds. While the women in Sallada had silently suffered this stigma for years, a group of 12 to 14-year-old girls from the Government Girls Upper Primary School decided they would have no more of this.
“People usually ignore us during our periods. We wanted to break this view of society. Menstruation is not a taboo. It is our right.”
Women in the village had been resorting to using dirty pieces of cloth during their periods for years. And though these unsanitary pieces of cloth were a serious cause of infections and diseases, most of the community could not afford pads as they were below the poverty line. And the pads given to the girls at school would not last them longer than three hours.
According to a study, women with unhygienic menstrual practices have a 70% higher chance of contracting a Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI).
The girls – Kavita Kunwar, Girja Kunwar, Premi Kunwar, Shanta Natt and Asha Natt – under the mentorship of Komal Roy – decided that they had to come up with a solution for this problem.
They were inspired by the simple 4-step formula of ‘Feel-Imagine-Do-Share’ developed by the non-profit Design for Change, which challenges students to solve problems in their communities.
The girls first set out to ‘Imagine’ various solutions to the problem. They tried and tested a variety of cloth to use as sanitary pads. After conducting market research, the children decided to stitch a piece of cotton flannel – a “maroon cloth” that was locally available in the village market – to two pieces of cotton cloth.
The flannel cloth was cheaply available for Rs 12-15 and would last for five months.
In the ‘Do’ stage of their project, the girls used a regular pad to trace out the final design and created flaps that could be buttoned on to the underwear for ease of use. They took help from their teachers to stitch the layers of cloth together. The Panchayat Pradhan of Sallada village and the Legislative Assembly of the Block provided the girls with a sewing machine and Rs 3,000 to make their project a reality. The pads were then formally launched by the two governing bodies. Block Pradhan Sonali Meena, appealed to all the women in the village to use the product because “the cloth is good and absorbant”.
The local government body chose Sallada village under its women empowerment scheme “with the belief that girls will sustain this initiative and they will impact more than 1,000 women in one year”.
But with the pads now available, the students faced their biggest challenge. How would they change the mindset of the people in the village towards menstruation? The biggest issue is that women would not dry their pads in their home because of shame and this would cause them to stink. An overall mindset change was needed.
The Bal Sansad (Student Council) of the school decided to do something radical. They called all the men and women of the village together for a community meeting to talk about periods.
More than 50 women and 40 men participated in the meeting, which they called ‘Maahavari Mera Adhikaar’ (Menstruation My Right).
The children discussed the science behind menstruation, dispelling myths about the blood being impure. They insisted that it was high time the community took on responsibility to ensure that all women maintained good hygiene. In a small village like Sallada, this meeting made history! The students said,
“Now the community is open to discuss menstruation and other taboo issues.”
The students went on to conduct over ten feedback sessions in the community to collect responses from the women using the product. They also had one-on-one interactions with 105 women. Some of them had been using dirty cloth since 45 years, and expressed that this was such a clean and comfortable alternative. One woman, Lata Kanwar, expressed,
“I never imagined that Menstruation could ever be a matter of pride for us and we would celebrate it.”
The students have now formed a committee for market research, which will be responsible for incorporating feedback about the product into the design. An operations wing will then carry out steps to develop the product on the basis of these reports.
The students now also want to shatter the taboo around menstruation in the neighbouring villages and train girls from other schools to make this product for themselves. To scale up their project, they have trained the women in Sallada village to make these pads for themselves, and a group of four women are currently producing these as a small entrepreneurial venture. This works out as a revenue generating model for them, as the women sell these pads for Rs 25 in their community and in nearby panchayats. Each pad lasts for five months, so it turns out to be an economical solution for all. The male head of the Panchayat of Sallada is also involved in the venture.
Block Pradhan Sonali Meena commended the students,
“It is (a matter of) pride for us that children are promoting entrepreneurial thought and we should learn about team work from them.”
Watch the students speak out boldly about Menstruation being their Right, in this video:
The Sallada girls were recognised for their ‘Bold and Audacious’ idea at the ‘I CAN Awards 2017’ organised by Design for Change.
Since 2009, the annual ‘I CAN Awards’ have attracted 14,000 stories of change from school children all over India who have followed the Feel-Imagine-Do-Share (FIDS) model of design-thinking to create social change in their communities.
Kids in India are raring to bust the myths around menstruation and it’s an inspiring trend. In 2014, a group of kids from the Galaxy School in Rajkot created sanitary pads using waste cloth and towels for neighbouring villages and slums. They were alarmed that a whopping 88% of Indian women use unhygienic materials during their periods. Shame plays a big part in this stigma. Want to do something to stamp out the stigma? Declare #MenstruationMyRight in your community!
Be part of Design for Change, one of the largest global movements of children driving social change in their communities. Take up the ‘I CAN’ School Challenge in your classroom. Find out more online.