The startup Get Closer recently launched the initiative ‘Sisters Across Borders’ in collaboration with Kudumbashree to provide help to hundreds of women in disaster areas of post-flood Kashmir.
The company links NGOs and corporations to enable the implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility activities, which, since April 2014, became mandatory for the wealthiest companies in India.
The flood that last September hit Kashmir due to torrential rainfall affected 2,600 villages, completely submerging 390. More than 190 people lost their lives in the flood, where water-nearly 4m deep in Srinagar itself- left the valley in conditions of emergency.
Get Closer has been exploring different areas of Indian society where corporate companies can contribute through CSR. “Disaster management is something we were keen to learn. We felt the need to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Kashmir from Kerala. This was the driving point to initiate Sisters Across Borders,” says Radhakrishnan Manohar, Founder of Get Closer.
Why sanitary pads
The flood caused huge property losses. Like many other large-scale tragedies, it is hard to individuate what kind of support the victims need most. “Water destroyed hundreds of houses and many had to leave with the same clothes they were wearing. This was a bigger issue for women in terms of sanitation and hygiene. When we spoke to the Special Relief Commissioner in Jammu and Kashmir, we learnt that there was acute shortage of sanitary pads,” explains Manohar.
The pads were manufactured by Kudumbashree, India’s largest self-help organisation for women. It acted as a huge pillar of support during the project. The government-sponsored organisation based in Kerala has long experience in manufacturing. It had resources, material and labour power to produce the sanitary napkins.
“We also successfully sent clothes, undergarments and medical kits in the second phase of relief,” Manohar adds.
Reaching affected women
Means of transport were not very efficient due to the precarious situations of the roads. The Get Closer team wanted to make sure their supply reached, so they went out to deliver the pads personally. They contacted a local women’s NGO Women’s Era Welfare Society, which helped them approach girls and women in Srinagar.
Is it the right choice?
Sanitary pads, however, are a major cause of pollution, because most of them contain plastics, especially acrylic-based super absorbent polymers (SAP), which become further dangerous for the environment when chlorine bleach is added to make the product whiter. The precarious transport system in post-flood Kashmir makes waste management highly problematic, and the accumulation of polluting material could add to long-term negative consequences for the valley.
However, Manohar stated that women in Kashmir “are quite suspicious of alternative methods for menstrual hygiene.In that situation of emergency, it is better to stick to what the victims require.” Get Closer and Kudumbashree decided to supply pads because women, through the local Special Relief Commissioner, had expressed the need for them.
More than just an experience
The biggest thing the team learnt was that “nature is in control and we are not.”
“It was a big reality check for us,” says Manohar, “we are all exceptional armchair revolutionaries on social networks, but when it comes to the real situation nobody does anything. We are happy we were able to do a bit.”
The Get Closer team explains that through their venture they came across many different issues plaguing India. They realised that corporate companies can do a lot through CSR projects. “I feel the corporations need to look at CSR in a more serious manner. There is a need to extend beyond signing off cheques to NGOs for the purpose of tax exemption,” confesses Manohar. Heconcludes by saying, “We will continue to work very hard and do work that makes a difference, because we are not going to be around here for too long. So, let’s make the moments matter!”