The pan-India lockdown imposed since 25th March to avoid the transfer of the deadly Coronavirus has brought about many challenges among various communities in the country. Due to the virus outbreak, the marginalized women have been put into a great vulnerability as many women are in dire need of menstrual-related products.
Connecting Dreams Foundation-Shri Ram College of Commerce, a student-based initiative, has ensured that no compromises are made in this regard, pandemic or no pandemic. CDF-SRCC’s Project Aarogya established on 2nd February 2019 identifies the problem of Unawareness, Unaffordability, and Unavailability in the slums of Delhi-NCR. The women in the slum are unaware of basic menstrual hygiene practices, which prevails throughout their life and makes them believe in the shame and stigma associated with menstruation. Despite there being a large number of producers of sanitary napkins, they are not available at an affordable price due to high-profit margins on each pad and hence making it too costly to bleed.
“Humne toh humesha se kapda hi istemaal kiya hai”, says Pinki, an 18-year-old resident of Shastri Park.
“Pads milte hai, lekin mehenga hota hai isliye kharid nai paate”, says another girl at Dilshad Garden.
After conducting 11+ door to door demand surveys through questionnaires, where they interact with the women and ask them regarding their menstrual hygiene practices in Delhi-NCR and Haryana, Aarogya currently operates in three years- Shastri Park, Sonia Camp, and Race Course and caters to more than 2000+ households. Aarogya raises awareness about menstrual hygiene via Nukaad Nataks and community sessions.
This helps in creating awareness regarding menstrual hygiene and breaks the taboos and myths related to menstruation. People are able to relate to stories and myths that are highlighted in the plays and understand the problems. Apart from this, health camps are also conducted in collaboration with Sarpanch and Mahasabhas in villages and with NGOs and local organizations in slums to make women understand the seriousness of this issue with the help of gynecologists and also giving them a reality check. At this event, they introduce their product to the masses and establish their brand in the area. For areas with a large population, collaboration with NGOs who already have established in these areas helps them in enhancing their reach. These areas are divided into different sections where they have community interaction events simultaneously. By conducting Nukkad Nataks and community health sessions, they aim at eradication the taboo and instilling in everyone’s minds that it is not something to be ashamed of. They also generate awareness regarding proper disposal of sanitary napkins, thus ensuring cleanliness in the surroundings. Effective usage of hoardings, pamphlets, and wall paintings helps them highlight that it is important for women to focus on their health through various pictorial representations.
During their surveys, they also identify a potential lady or user group, who is influential, committed, and enthusiastic towards work. The members at CDF-SRCC then train and educate her and try to impart the sales and marketing skills. These women then act as the entrepreneurs of their model, selling sanitary napkins. They establish a supply chain model wherein one woman is employed to sell these pads, hence eliminating the middlemen and increasing profits.
By introducing sanitary napkins in the rural areas, women are provided with a better standard of living and a hygienic lifestyle. The entrepreneurs are able to earn to lead a better livelihood. The women are empowered as they remain extremely motivated towards work and it helps in running their families. This also helps to increase awareness among the women about the use of sanitary napkins and discourages them to use cloth for their better health and hygiene.
Aarogya follows a card system for its customers. Cards are issued at the time the women first become their customers. The card has details like their name, phone number, and house number. It is of mutual benefit. While the members of the project get to maintain the record of their sales and track it, the cardholders get monetary benefits as the sanitary napkins are sold at MRP to non-card holders and the ones with the card buy the napkins at a price which is less than the MRP. They go on regular visits for customer feedback in order to cater to their needs or complaints. By building a direct contact with customers, they are able to provide them with better service. The regular follow-ups by the team help to ensure credibility and direct communication which in turn establishes a direct feedback mechanism and helps them analyze the opportunities, threats, strengths, and weaknesses of their model in the area established.
During mid-April, the Menstrual Health Alliance India (MHAI) conducted a rapid response survey of 45 organizations spanning NGOs and manufacturers that either manufacture or distribute sanitary products across India and found that around 58 percent of the small and medium scale manufacturers were not able to operate whereas 37 percent were not operational at all. In such a situation, when access to such an essential item has become a major problem, Aarogya has made sure that no women suffer during her menstruation cycle. With the help of various delivery partners, Aarogya has distributed over 3000+ sanitary pads in the last month. Not just this, but also under the spectrum of this project only, the students have managed to rebuild an old community school in Shastri Park which was severely damaged after the much recent hailstorm but now looks after the needs of more than a hundred students. After the creation of 3 entrepreneurs in their current areas of operation, and increasing their income by 400%, Aarogya also ensures the regular availability of ration and is always there for other monetary help.
“Jab ghar mei paise aane band ho gaye the, tab inn hi bacho ke wajah se mere ghar ke 6 logo ne khana khaya”- says Ayesha Di, their user group at Sonia Camp.
Aarogya is collaborating with NGOs and other organizations throughout India to fulfill its promise of ensuring menstrual hygiene in every house.