How this NGO is breaking taboos around menstrual hygiene in rural Andhra Pradesh

When Sravani got her first period, she had no idea how to manage the bleeding since nobody had spoken about it to her. Even her mother was hush-hush about it. She ended up using cloth and missing a week’s class at school. Several girls like her in Billalavalasa village in Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh, would miss school for a week every month, some even dropping out once they attained puberty.

Last year, the girls saw a ray of hope when Balamitra Foundation launched a crowd-funded project to distribute menstrual hygiene kits among girls of Classes VIII to X at the ZP High School (ZPHS), Billalavalasa. Around 150 sets were distributed by the Hyderabad-based NGO.

Stigma around menstruation is one of the biggest challenges faced by social organisations aiming to empower women in rural Andhra Pradesh. “When we approached the school, we realised that there were high numbers of absentees among girl students in higher grades, which eventually led to dropouts. We wanted to eradicate the taboo about menstrual hygiene by talking to the parents and counselling them,” says Chandrika Kanumuri, managing trustee, Balamitra Foundation.

“Our objective is to bring about empathy and empowerment in young India. This year, for the menstrual hygiene kit project, two volunteers from Visakhapatnam are leading the way in raising awareness for crowd-funding,” says Chandrika.

As part of the project, Balamitra Foundation’s Run For A Better Future 5K run was conducted in Hyderabad last year. The money raised was used to put together 150 menstrual hygiene kits. Each kit contains 100 sanitary pads, newspaper strips for disposal, two pairs of underwear, soap strips for handwashing, a pouch to carry napkins to school, and a pamphlet with information on maintaining menstrual hygiene.

The NGO procured bio-degradable sanitary pads from Hyderabad-based Mahina Napkins and Visakhapatnam-based women-led organisation, Sampoorna. These pads are made from wood pulp, gel sheets, woven fabric and paper.

“Menstrual hygiene practices are structured by cultural norms, economic status and socio-economic pressures in rural belts. We realised that making sanitary pads accessible was just one part of this issue. Creating a change in mindset was the main challenge. We hence visited the school with psychologists and counselled parents,” says Chandrika.

The crowdfunding for the project, during its second year, is already underway. “This year, due to the pandemic, we conducted a virtual run from October 19 to 24 to raise funds. We are also working with Bengaluru-based Fuel a Dream, a crowdfunding platform in which individuals can donate funds,” she adds.

The school staff of ZPHS in Billalavalasa are hopeful that this is a beginning that will bring positive behavioural change among the girls.“The distribution of menstrual hygiene kits has helped our high school girls immensely in knowing proper methods of usage and disposal. And more importantly, it has helped in addressing the taboo associated with menstruation,” says G Sanjeeva Rao, Headmaster ZPHS Billalavalasa. Balamitra Foundation engages with teachers, community members as well as students, and they ensure they involve fathers of the girls as well in conversations about menstrual health.

Similar initiatives have been undertaken by the NGO in Telangana in the villages of Ippalavalasa, Bhagiradhipuram, Kondalaveru, Korlam, Badam, Kunchigumadam and Siriyalapeta, reaching out to more than 700 beneficiaries including children studying in 10 government schools. “We support these schools by providing sports equipment, reading and art material, scholarships and menstrual hygiene kits for high school girls,” says Chandrika.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2020 7:30:15 AM |

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