Breaking the taboo over sanitary pads

Breaking the taboo over sanitary pads

Kolkata-based Aqsa Mushtaque, a 25-year-old communication manager, at an online classifieds company, has taken the initiative to spread awareness about menstrual health and hygiene

Indian women face many challenges during menstrual periods, especially in rural areas, where lack of awareness and cost of sanitary pads result in using unhygienic methods, including rags and leaves, increasing the risk of infections and disease.

According to a community-based study 'Menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls – A study conducted in urban slums' in 2018, unhygienic environmental conditions were observed. Poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance are the major factors which lead to poor environmental sanitation. In the last few years, India has started distributing sanitary napkins in schools by holding classroom sessions on menstrual hygiene and many more initiatives.

Meanwhile, in 2018, Bollywood made its first film 'Padman'on menstrual hygiene, breaking taboos around the subject and boosting awareness.

Aqsa Mushtaque, a 25-year-old communication manager at an online classifieds company has taken the initiative to spread awareness about menstrual health and hygiene.

Sharing about her initiative, 'Free The Period', Aqsa says, she received a call from her maid saying that she did not have money to buy sanitary pads for her daughter. After understanding the gravity of the situation, Aqsa went out and ended up distributing scores of pads in slum areas. "With the support of my fiancé and two of my male friends I started this initiative."

Some women in rural areas get very conscious while using sanitary napkins. They feel shy even with the sound the adhesive strip makes when removed from their underwear, especially during the lockdown when male family members are also all at home.

During this initiative, one of the things that surprised her was more than women, the maximum number of donations and contributions came from men.

Aqsa shares, "Around 85 per cent of the donations came from men. My posters were also shared by them only. However, at the same time, women are not yet ready to accept pads openly, which is why I had to wrap each and every pack in newspapers. They are ashamed to talk about this openly, some men asked me to stop doing this distribution as it is maligning the society's image. I always knew I couldn't change their mindset in a day, so I had to accept all the challenges and overcome them with a smile. Also my fiancé supported me a lot and made me believe that I could overcome any difficulties."

During the pandemic, the biggest challenge was the availability of pads in the market considering it as an essential. Apart from this, when Aqsa began her campaign, a guy from Delhi NCR wanted to collaborate with her. Later she found out that he started using her photos of camps from the field for his fundraising. He totally copied her campaign and name as well, which made it much more difficult for her to do the campaign. When she asked him to remove them, he straight away refused to do so.

"I want everyone to talk freely about periods, menstrual health and hygiene. That is when the taboo and social stigma will be erased. We need people to talk about their menstrual problems and then only it will be easier to tackle menstrual health issues," concludes Aqsa.

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