Pandemic Heroes: Bengaluru teenagers distribute sanitary napkins to women in slums
India, as a country, has been grappling with issues like poor menstrual hygiene standards for girls and the taboos associated with it for many years. However, very little change has happened regarding this.
According to the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI), India has over 336 million menstruating women, of which only 36 percent use disposable sanitary napkins, while the rest of the population resorts to dirty pieces of cloths, rags, and other unhygienic substitutes.
Niketa Khanna and Tia Poovayya
Amidst the coronavirus-led lockdown, while essential items like rations and medical supplies were distributed easily, sanitary napkins were hard to be found. It became an obstacle for many girls who relied either on schools for their sanitary pads or bought cheap ones available in stores.
To help women during such struggling times, two Bengaluru teenagers, Niketa Khanna and Tia Povayya, Class 11 students from the Mallya Aditi International School, Bengaluru, decided to distribute sanitary napkins in the slums of the city. The duo has been distributing pads in the Koramangala and Ulsoor areas.
“The idea struck when my house help came in to collect her salary during the lockdown, and asked my parents for ration, specifying the need for sanitary napkins. We realised that the number of women who don’t have access (to pads) is large that we couldn’t imagine earlier,” Niketa tells SocialStory.
Providing sanitary napkins
Niketa and Tia were preparing for their Class 10 board exams in March when the nationwide lockdown was announced. With school shut and exam postponed, the girls had some time on their hands, and they put it to good use.
The duo decided that they will not ask their parents to fund their cause but request people to contribute. “We sent out WhatsApp message to our different groups, friends, and families, and requested them to contribute to our cause. But, we had decided that we wouldn’t take any money from our parents,” says Niketa.
Distribution of hygiene kits in Koramangala
To date, the duo has distributed two rounds of 1000 hygiene kits in the slums of Ulsoor and Koramangala. Each hygiene kit contained one pack of 12 sanitary napkins, one mask, sachets of shampoo, and a bar of soap, which cost about Rs 50.
During the distribution rounds, the girls ensured that they sanitised themselves, wore gloves, and masks before stepping out for the relief work.
“The Bengaluru police has been a great help to our cause. We first partnered with the Koramangala police station, who accompanied us and helped us locate the different areas,” says Niketa. The police officials also helped in loading the packets on to their vans, as well as helped distribute them.
In fact, during the second round, Niketa and Tia got in touch with the officials at the Ulsoor police station, the Revenue Minister of Karnataka, and the Mayor of Bengaluru, who further helped with the distribution of the essentials.
The Bengaluru police played a key role in the distribution rounds
The teenagers are due to conduct the third round of distribution on August 21 in partnership with the Koramangala police station. The hygiene kits this time contains a pack of sanitary napkins, a sanitiser, a detergent soap, as well as a body soap.
Hurdles on the road
During their relief work, Niketa and Tia earned many appreciations and encouraging reactions from the recipients of these kits, who were very grateful to receive them.
However, the journey was not quite smooth for them, especially in April, when the lockdown had begun and everything was still in chaos.
“The lockdown made it difficult to go to different places in the first round. Additionally, there was an added problem of safety, thanks to the ongoing pandemic. However, the Bengaluru police were very helpful in helping our commute, and provided us with a travel pass,” says Niketa.
In fact, the teenagers had to temporarily stop the distribution drive in June and July to prepare for their board exams.
Despite attending their regular classes, Niketa and Tia also want to continue their distribution drive as a monthly activity, as long as there are funds available for the same.
At present, the girls are raising money via bank transfer and Google Pay for the fourth round of distribution.
“We have planned a drive for September as well, and are hoping to target more women who need help. We are also planning other actionable activities to help the underprivileged people, but we are waiting for the entire COVID-19 situation to cool down a bit,” Niketa says.