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Improving Menstrual Hygiene Amongst Rural Women in India

In a 2017 World Health Organization study, it was revealed that about 43% of Indian women do not have access to sanitary essentials at the beginning of periods, while 36% felt uncomfortable in buying them with other customers around or because of the taboo engulfing menstruation.
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According to the survey as many as 67% women have had to borrow sanitary essentials from a friend, colleague or family member.

Even more appalling is the state of women and young girls in rural areas where, according to a widely cited 2011 study, over 88% of women have to resort to shocking alternatives like un-sanitised cloths, ash, dirt or even husk sand! This leads to various diseases such as cervical cancer, uterus infection, infertility, skin cancer et al. Incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) are 70% more common among these women.

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There are various schemes in place to educate families in rural areas about women health and hygiene, and the issue is gaining steam in mainstream media. However there are several roadblocks that are still difficult to overcome, mainly due to the taboo surrounding a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Har Hath Kalam and the Padwoman
Har Hath Kalam is a Patiala based NGO whose primary mission is creating awareness against begging, providing education to child beggars, giving adult beggars employment opportunities and welfare schemes et al.

During one of Kalam's drives in the slums and villages of Patiala, Ruhpreet, a volunteer with Kalam, noticed that many women still use cloth or other such means during their menstrual cycles.
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Being a single mother who has gone through various hardships in her life including abuse and divorce, she was able to empathize with the women in these areas and connect on a personal level. And she wanted to change the horrifying landscape. She started off by distributing napkins to the underprivileged women living there.

With the support of Kalam, Ruh has distributed more than 15000 pads to the women living in rural Patiala. It was her indomitable spirit that led Kalam to choose this as one of their primary missions.

Ruh's story spread around the entire nation and eventually she was christened “The Padwoman of Patiala”.
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Kalam volunteers are doing a phenomenal job in Patiala and 10 villages and 3 slums in surrounding areas. A survey conducted by Kalam revealed that the reasons, apart from dearth of education, for women not using more modern & safe means of sanitation are
  1. Unaffordability
    Many of the women or the earning members of their families are daily wage laborers for whom the income isn't regular and is capped at a baffling low. The women here do buy sanitary napkins but only when they have the capital to do so, otherwise resorting to using other means such as un-sanitised clothing.
  2. Inaccessibility
    Most of the women feel “shy” to buy from a local store and are not even open to their husbands. Thus due to the generic taboo surrounding menstruation, they are not able to access proper means of sanitation.
Flutur & Har Hath Kalam
Kalam is currently working with all the slums across the Patiala district. Their endeavours have allowed women who have never used any kind of sanitary napkin during their life, to not only use pads but also be the ones manufacturing them in production centers and distributing them across slums, villages and government schools. And so Kalam's efforts are also providing the women of Patiala a sustainable means of employment!
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Flutur will feature Kalam on the Flutur New Tab Chrome Extension as a project users can choose to work with, and on other platforms to help fund the low-cost napkin production centers.

Through the funds raised on Flutur, Kalam will be able to not only increase access to sanitary napkins at low costs, but will also empower the community with self help groups - providing full time employment for more than 10 women and potentially 1000 Aanganwadi workers.

Kalam will cover 927 villages, 50+ Slums, 350 Govt. middle and higher secondary schools to distribute these affordable sanitary napkins. Focus will lie on also teaching women to adopt healthy menstrual practices.
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Over the course of 18 months, more than 2 lakh women will be taught how to handle menstruation with best and healthy practices and to fight against the myths and taboos. This will be done through through comic magazines, flashcards et al.

The total estimate for setting up such a center lies at around Rs. 11 Lakhs! And Rs. 25,000 for each vending machine. These centers will be fully automated, producing up 60 napkins per minute.

Each pack will contain 6 pads and will be sold at a price of Rs. 20 to customers. Pads would be ultra thin, soft and comfortable, with high absorbing power (100mL) and anti-bacterial chips.The napkins are biodegradable, which will reduce the poly plastic waste at landfills. Kalam's napkins can be absorbed within 6 months and can potentially turn infertile soil into fertile land due to presence of micro-nutrients in blood-filled pads.
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Flutur has joined hands with the Padwoman of Patiala and the amazing team of 75 volunteers at Har Hath Kalam and wants to help them achieve their goal by 2019. This goal is to ensure that every woman in Patiala has access to safe, cheap and modern sanitary napkins.
Want to fund Padwoman's campaign? You can raise funds without spending any money! Download the Flutur New Tab Chrome Extension and choose Har Hath Kalam as your NGO for the month!

You can also show support by spreading the word! Do check out Har Hath Kalam’s work here and follow the other causes that they are fighting for on their Facebook page. Let’s work towards a better tomorrow together :)
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