Menstrual hygiene management and access to sanitary napkins continue to be amongst the most challenging obstacle in Indian society. In rural India, with constant lack of awareness and proper facilities, we keep witnessing the alarming rates of girls dropping out from schools as soon as they reach puberty. The prevalence of social and cultural taboos in rural areas attached to menstruation makes it harder for girls and women to openly talk about menstrual hygiene.
The spread of Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown has further pushed the underprivileged women into greater health risks due to limited reach to the hygiene products. Access to the basic resources required for managing one's period got highlighted when Project Baala did a research study in the peak of the pandemic. Covering 20 clusters in Delhi in the research, they learnt that not only did people lose their incomes, but for months menstruating women and adolescents saw the doors of their existing supply centers getting shut indefinitely. Almost 97 per cent the respondents had fallen back to using old cloth and rags to manage their periods.
Leveraging the cause of hygiene and sustainability
Despite the 21st century, menstruation is still being considered a taboo in the Indian society; perceived as unholy and dirty while the menstruators continuing to be considered as impure. Surrounded by shame and the cultural anxiety to establish control over the bodies of women, they are still expected to follow restrictions when they are menstruating. Additionally, immense waste production, and lack of knowledge about proper disposable methods further leads to an unsanitary environment, not only for women but also for the environment. According to a report by Water Aid and Menstrual Health Alliance India, at least 121 million women and girls use eight sanitary napkins per menstrual cycle. This means 12 billion pads are disposed of annually in India, affecting our environment. The data highlights the need for a shift to sustainable and reusable sanitary napkins. Project Baala is an impact-oriented youth led organisation that recognised the pertinent issue women are facing in India, Africa, and Ghana. Project Baala has done immense work in imparting awareness around hygiene and menstrual health and creating more innovative and sustainable sanitary napkins.
To break the cycle of taboos which is passed on from older generating leading to women not sharing about their periods. Project Baala is trying to break the cycle of misinformation and share relevant insights that helps women with the access to pads that are reusable upto two years. Awareness is a big part of the work we do at Project Baala and they are trying to make a difference by producing sustainable pads. Using Baala pads one can reduce menstrual waste by 99 % in rural areas, from using approximately 240 pads in 24 months, we will be down to 3 pads, which is 80 times less than what we generate now.
Initiatives taken during COVID-19
While we are reeling with the effects of COVID-19, the issue of menstrual hygiene has taken a backseat. The deplorable state of public health, issues of limited financial resources and increase in the price of sanitary products are some of the major concerns identified by Project Baala during the pandemic. To augment its initiatives during the lockdown, Project Baala devised a new approach to continue their work. Digital access to menstrual awareness through their social media channels and the mobile app, Baala Boss, are provided in addition to the launch of a digital library with recourses catering to menstrual health, both in Hindi and English. Furthermore, Project Baala is also providing free reusable sanitary napkins in schools in rural areas, urban slums and villages that can last for two years.
To solve the issues of economic loss and menstrual hygiene, Project Baala has introduced 'Baala Associates Programme' where individuals with kinder approach towards these concerns will impart knowledge, awareness about menstrual health while also generating financial independence for them. These associates further went ahead and directly sold Baala pads reducing their economic burden and eliminating the unmanaged sanitary wastes.
Project Baala has plans to leverage the use of technology and innovation that can produce safe, hygienic, reusable pads which can tackle multiple problems with one solution for rural women. To revolutionize menstruation, the project aims at working with different textile scientists and manufacturers to create a pad that can be used even in drought-stricken areas, eliminating the use of water, which can last for a longer time. This is a much-needed initiative taken by this project to empower women in the society, to such an extent that stigma attached to their bodies can be eliminated and free them from the clutches of patriarchal oppression and misogyny.