Power of Awareness

We often live in a bubble made of confined knowledge, stereotypes, and assumptions. We tend to ignore social problems or learn about them to be comfortable in our worlds. On this International Day of Action for Women’s health let’s all choose to break our comfort bubbles first to accept pre-existing social concerns around menstrual hygiene. 

In this developing society, if we raise the question, “how many menstruators use sanitary napkins?”; a generic guess would be sixty-seventy percent. But in reality, this number is less than 18%. Even today, 77% of women still use ash, newspapers, dried leaves, and rags. They live with their notions of hygiene which are dominated by toxic traditions. These sentiments ought to be changed into living a healthy, hygienic, and sustainable life. 

UPAY’s vision to bring about this change resulted in “Project Shakti”. Project Shakti started by identifying the unawareness of menstrual hygiene in slum areas. It has been working for over one and a half years now. 

The project aims to distribute free-of-cost sanitary napkins, bring medical awareness around menstrual health. It educates them on the importance of menstrual hygiene and provides necessary counseling and support. 

The team has been able to reach its goal by organizing over 25 health and awareness sessions, through which more than 3150 women have benefitted and lead a healthier, more aware, and hygienic lifestyle. It has also been successful in distributing over 36500 sanitary pads, free of cost to its beneficiaries. More importantly, it has created a space where women are free to talk about menstrual health, gain counseling and receive mental and social support. 

 Mr. Akhil Mahajan, along with his colleagues, decided to take up the onus of educating the public through this project. As a Zonal Director of UPAY’s Gurugram zone, he believes that “to educate women on the importance of switching to sanitary pads from traditional methods is important. The mental support and counseling are necessary along with distributing sanitary pads.”

Underprivileged women have been using ash and newspapers for years. These practices have been passed down and will continue to the next generation. Debunking our beliefs, traditions, practices over a session is not easy. There is a need for a safe space where these myths, taboos can be debunked in an educating and respectful manner, within the community. A women-to-women conversation is necessary to build this sisterhood and trust to open conversation about menstrual health stripped of taboo. Breaking these walls of traditions, shyness, and reluctance one by one is what members of Project Shakti strive for every day.  

Another step forward by the initiative is to conduct regular medical checkups and educational sessions on women’s health. Such sessions on menstruation and sanitary napkins explain the entirety of the matter, right from the reproduction system to use a sanitary pad to its correct disposal. It has made a significant impact on the slums UPAY has visited. In a world where environmental awareness and sustainability are given so much importance, reusable menstrual cups are also talked about and promoted. It leads to the empowerment of women and the environment by the simple “power of awareness”.  

Slums are part of what we call “developed” cities. But still, a majority of its citizens are unaware of medical information regarding women’s health. Even though the virus does not discriminate. The system does. It has led to persisting unequal impact of the pandemic. This inequality has also impacted the rights of a woman to sexual and reproductive health. It is vital, especially now, to step out of comfort zones and talk about menstruation freely.  

UPAY is continuously working towards bringing solutions to solve these issues. Nevertheless, we, as liberal citizens, should take a step to remove taboos and create a healthy, sustainable environment for women. On this International Day of Action for Women’s health day, let us also take a step, break the walls and start a conversation. 

Written by : Goutami Patankar

Edited by : Ananya Shetty

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