Not very long ago, Saranya Das Sharma was reading an article when a tragic statistic caught her eye – part of the reason young girls tend to drop out of school is lack of access to menstrual hygiene. The reason may seem trivial, but it is also a serious issue that continues.
So Saranya decided to do something about it herself. She roped in her friend Aamiya Vishwanathan to help her in her quest. Together, the duo now ensures year-long sanitary napkin supplies to women and girls in need. They also conduct workshops on sanitary hygiene. And they manage to do all of this in between classes and ensuring they do well in their studies.
You see, both of these young women are grade 11 students studying at The Shri Ram School Moulsari in Delhi.
“I consider myself a women’s rights advocate. I read that girls actually have to leave school because their schools don’t have facilities and they themselves can’t afford basic products like pads. Given that I am also a school-going girl, this didn’t sit right with me. So, I spoke to my friend and we decided on what we could do to help these girls out,” explains Saranya.
And thus Project Sashakt was born. Once the girls decided that they would collect and distribute pads to underprivileged girls attending government schools, they also pledged to tackle another problem – an environmental issue.
“I read in another article that women during their lifetimes end up generating a lot of sanitary waste and that’s definitely not good for the planet. Hence we decided to source and hand out biodegradable pads to women.”
According to the United Nations, 20% of women who drop out of schools in India, do so because they hit puberty.
Saranya and Aamiya started distribution of pads in September of 2016 in and around Delhi.
They realised that even if they handed out year-long supplies of pads, there were women who knew woefully little about their own bodies and its functions. They decided to address that problem as well.
“Right in the beginning we sat down and decided on the curriculum of what we would cover under the workshops. We start with teaching these girls how they can use and dispose sanitary napkins. Then we talk to them about basic hygienic practices like bathing and washing hands. We also address taboo subjects and explain why they should not be ignored. We also teach them about some infections that can occur and how they can treat them,” she explains.
To that end, whenever the duo decide to go to a government school to give out workshops, they also coordinate with the schools and find out about the nearest doctors and give that information to the girls. Once the initial workshop is done, they personally deliver the first set of pads to the girls. Then, they either send out boxes on a monthly basis or leave the right amount behind for the schools to distribute later.
Even though the girls have been doing this work only for a few months now, due to word-of-mouth, a lot of NGOs in the region have already reached out to them help distribute pads to women who come under their care.
By the end of this month, the girls would have distributed a year’s supply of sanitary napkins to 200 girls across the city and they plan on increasing their reach to 1,000 girls and 20 schools by the end of the year.
For now they are preparing to head to Earth Saviour’s Gurukul and Nirmal Sewa School next as part of their campaign.
While they started their project after they had given their class 10board exams, the girls still have to work a little harder than most to ensure that they don’t fall behind in their studies while also helping other girls stay in school. But Saranya says that the two have managed to do well thanks to knowing how to prioritise.
“It’s still hectic trying to balance studies and this but we know that this is just two Saturdays out of a month when we have to go out for the distributions. Right at the beginning we figured out how we would manage our time and do everything properly,” she notes.
The future is truly female.