No shame in bleeding: how Amari Foundation is advocating menstrual hygiene for girls in rural India
Most girls and young women in rural India don’t have access to safe menstrual hygiene products, but Haryana-based Amari Foundation is changing things for the better.
The Indian government's National Family Health Survey 2015-16 revealed that just 48 percent of rural women in the age group 15-24 use a hygienic method of menstrual protection as compared to 78 percent of urban women.
To improve these numbers in rural India, Amari Foundation educates young girls and their families about menstruation and menstrual hygiene, and aims to break the taboo surrounding the subject. It wants to be a platform for open discussion and actionable frameworks to be implemented at ground level. Amari also aspires to eliminate myths surrounding menstruation, so that every girl is confident enough to talk about it among friends and family.
Founded by Pallavi Arya (23) and Amandeep Gautam (24) in April 2018, Amari Foundation is a non-profit organisation that travels across villages, educating girls about menstruation. The two co-founders are law students and classmates who turned a simple conversation about starting an NGO into reality.
The Foundation provides girls in villages with Amari Menstrual Kits , which include a gynaecologist-approved educational booklet - “SAKHI” - in Hindi and English, along with a year's worth of basic menstrual hygiene products, including sanitary napkins and undergarments. Pallavi says she personally tested the various sanitary napkins provided by different suppliers, before selecting the ones the girls would receive.
Each kit costs Rs 800 per year, and is fully supported by sponsors for the first year. In the second year, each girl bears half of the cost, which is not more than Re 1 per day, and from the third year onwards, she bears 90 percent of the cost, not exceeding Rs 2 per day.
Apart from girls in villages and government schools, people can also opt to sponsor a kit for whom they wish to.
Also read: Menstruation and the workplace: Women talk about the problem and need for inclusion
Making an impact
Since its inception in 2018, Amari has empowered more than 2,000 girls across villages in Haryana, and aims to reach Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the third quarter of 2019. To amplify its campaigns and projects, Amari has partnered with Rotary International, an international non-profit service organisation.
Along with educating girls, Pallavi believes it’s equally important to educate boys about menstrual health and hygiene, so that they don’t subject girls to mockery and humiliation. During educational sessions, they usually address classrooms collectively, and don’t separate students based on gender.
So far, Amari has had a smooth run convincing parents and schools to let them talk to their children about a subject that has so much stigma attached to it. Upon its first visit to a school, the Amari Menstrual Kits provide sanitary products for six months. The foundation regularly checks up at the school to find out whether girls are using the products and having more open conversations about menstruation. Pallavi says that because Amari’s campaign has helped girls, their schools, and families break the taboo, the foundation gets frequent requests to return and further its campaign.
Recollecting a memorable experience, Pallavi says,
“I started with my first campaign in a village called Aryanagar, where my father was raised. The girls there were so inspired by the effort our team was putting into spreading awareness about menstruation, that they wanted to join the Amari Foundation. I recognised their enthusiasm and decided to take them along for the campaigns so they could motivate other girls to open up and choose safe menstrual hygiene.”
Along with Rotary International, Amari is also supported by corporate and individual sponsors. Additionally, Amari has received CSR sponsorships from Vikas Steel, JBS Steel, and Progress Industries.
Apart from monetary support, people can also contribute to Amari through internships, society collaboration opportunities, creative writing and blog post initiatives.
As of now, since the Foundation is in its early stages, Pallavi says government funding is not viable. However, with time, it will definitely apply for relevant government schemes and partner with state and central government at various levels.
The key challenges Pallavi faced initially were procuring the right suppliers, mentoring the volunteers, handling her 14-member team, and finding sponsors. According to her, engaging the girls in long educational sessions, with the help of doctors and teachers, to successfully help them speak up about menstruation continues to be challenging.
"Field projects require extra caution, as educational campaigns are sometimes interpreted to be against rituals and religious beliefs. We need to handle this wisely so the parents don't get offended," Pallavi adds.
To drive its initiative further, Amari aims to find the right investors who will help set up a separate unit for the production of high quality sanitary napkins. The foundation is also in talks with some big organisations for CSR collaborations, and seeks the support of other established corporates.
To start its projects in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh this year, a stronger team is being established and prospective suppliers are being explored.
Amari is also planning to install sanitary napkin vending machines at various schools, so that girls can use pads in case of emergencies. It plans to distribute sustainable and reusable pads for its upcoming campaigns as well.
“Since the state hasn’t ensured proper education concerning menstrual health and hygiene, many girls and women in rural regions are still hesitant to use safe sanitary products, and continue to resort to ashes, leaves and cloth. It is our duty as citizens to unite and collectively solve the problem,” Pallavi concludes.
Also read: Meet the ‘Padmen’ working for menstrual hygiene with Delhi-based Azah