Period Poverty in India
Period poverty is a serious concern in many countries, specifically India. Period poverty involves a lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual education and hygiene and sanitation facilities necessary to properly manage menstruation. Because the impacts of period poverty are far-reaching, several organizations are aiming to address period poverty in India.

Period Poverty in India

According to Feminism India, those who cannot afford menstrual products resort to unsafe alternatives such as “rags, hay, sand and ash,” which can lead to infections. Period poverty is a continuing issue in India due to the cultural stigma surrounding menstruation. Many people consider menstruation a taboo topic that they should not discuss. In India, research has indicated that 71% of girls do not have “knowledge of menstruation before their first period.” This lack of knowledge and stigma surrounding menstruation has led to one out of every five female students dropping out of school once menstruation begins. In addition, more than 40% of female students in India choose not to attend school during their menstrual cycle due to the inability to access menstrual products to properly manage their menstruation coupled with the social stigma menstruating girls face at schools.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Period Poverty in India

Since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, the pandemic has only intensified period poverty in India. Many organizations that are trying to address period poverty in India by providing menstrual education and free sanitary products are facing difficulties providing either. This is because COVID-19 led to school shutdowns, creating a barrier to free menstrual products and educational workshops that organizations provide to schools. In addition, organizations that were providing free menstrual products could not obtain products due to supply chain disruptions. In rural areas of India, where households struggled to afford basic groceries even before the onset of COVID-19, people do not consider menstrual products as essential.

The Desai Foundation

Samir A. Desai and Nilima Desai founded The Desai Foundation in 1997. The Desai Foundation aims to help people in both the U.S. and India through more than 25 programs covering issues such as “health and hygiene,” period poverty, entrepreneurship and vocational training. In India, the Desai Foundation works to uplift “women and children through community programming to elevate health and livelihood” in more than 568 villages. To address period poverty in India, the Foundation established the Asani Sanitary Napkin Program, which has “created economic empowerment, provided hygiene education, increased community awareness and cultivated dignity for numerous women in the region.”

The Asani Sanitary Napkin Program teaches local Indian women to produce and distribute affordable yet high-quality sanitary pads across three regions in India, with the aim of expanding to more areas. The program has created job opportunities for more than 2,000 local women who have produced more than 2.3 million sanitary pads in four manufacturing units. The Desai Foundation distributed more than 445,000 of these pads without any charge. So far, the program has positively impacted more than 270,000 girls and women.

The Onset of COVID-19

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Desai Foundation was able to adapt its programs to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. In response to the pandemic, the Desai Foundation gave employment to local village women who previously attended the organization’s sewing program. The Desai Foundation paid the women to sew two-layer protective face masks from their homes, leading to the creation of “350 COVID-safe jobs.” The women produced more than a million masks for local villagers. In the wake of COVID-19, the Desai Foundation also handed out “1 million pads to local communities, hospitals, COVID care centers and rural women” to address period poverty.

Through the ongoing commitments to address period poverty in India, girls and women are one step closer to living productive and prosperous lives.

– Sierrah Martin
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Empowerment in India

India has a complicated track record when it comes to women’s rights and women’s empowerment. On the one hand, the country is home to a number of feminist icons like Kamla Bhasin, who has been advocating for female education since the seventies, but on the other, around 93 women are raped in India every day. In addition, even in 2019, nonconsensual sex between a husband and wife is not considered rape according to India’s penal code. It is also estimated that 120,000 Indian women a year will be victims of domestic violence.

Fortunately, a number of organizations are tirelessly working to put an end to gender inequality in India. These five organizations fighting for women’s empowerment in India are dedicated to uplifting and protecting women.

5 Organizations Fighting for Women’s Empowerment in India

  1. SEWA – Of the female labor force in India, more than 94 percent of workers make their living in the unorganized sector. Yet this demographic largely remains invisible due to the self-employed nature of their work. Since these women are not part of the mainstream salaried workforce, they do not have access to welfare benefits that laborers in the traditional workforce do, leaving them unprotected.

    Incorporated in 1972, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA, is a trade union made up of poor and self-employed female workers that earn a living through self-run small businesses or their personal labor. SEWA aims to organize women so that they can attain full employment and all its benefits including social security, which is defined as health care, child care and shelter. SEWA stimulates full employment and female self-reliance by offering a number of services including health care, child care, banking through the Sewa Bank (a cooperative bank with credit and finance services), insurance via VimoSEWA (SEWA insurance), legal services and housing.

  2. Snehalaya – Snehalaya translates to “home of love” and is an NGO that was founded in 1989 in the Indian city of Ahmednagar. The NGO provides support to women, children and LGBT communities. Snehalaya specifically focuses on these vulnerable members of society that have suffered at the hands of HIV and AIDS, trafficking, sexual violence and poverty.

    Snehalaya has made great strides in raising awareness for these disadvantaged communities and continues to offer safe havens and escapes to women and children imprisoned in the cycle of poverty and abuse. Currently, the organization reaches more than 19,000 beneficiaries a year by offering services including:

    • orphanages for children rescued from the sex trafficking industry;

    • offices that offer emergency care for abandoned infants in addition to medical and psychological support for expectant mothers;

    • 30 emergency safe houses for women and children experiencing domestic violence;

    • 100 25-acre Himmaatgram Biofarms that provide sustainable produce for Snehalaya projects; and

    • a free telephone helpline for children and the public to help at-risk children that receives around 300 calls a day.

  3. NEN: North East Network – NEN is a women’s rights organization that was established in 1995 as part of the Beijing World Conference on Women. NEN operates mostly in North East India and focuses on women’s human rights and gender justice. NEN organizes training sessions, awareness programs, retreats, as well as short film and art competitions all with the goal of merging advocacy with activism. The organization continues to fight against gender-based discrimination while building support for government policies that promote women’s rights and increase female representation in political, public and community settings.

  4. Azad Foundation – The Azad Foundation is a professional feminist organization founded in 2008 that specifically works with resource-poor women living in urban areas in India. The Foundation provides opportunities for disadvantaged women to earn a livelihood as professional drivers and has trained hundreds of women since inception. The Foundation also trained and then employed the first ever female bus driver in Delhi.

    In total, the Azad Foundation has trained more than 1,800 women in a range of topics to including self-defense, sexual and reproductive health, basic first aid as well as map reading.

    The organization, which was founded in Delhi, has now expanded and has training centers in Jaipur and Kolkata. By offering training to women so that they can become professional drivers to earn a decent living, the Azad Foundation bolsters the economic status of underprivileged women while offering them the independence of self-reliance.

  5. MAKAAM – Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch: MAKAAM is a forum for female farmers’ rights that operates in 24 states in India. Even though women make up about 60 to 70 percent of the farming workforce in India, they only account for around 12 percent of landholdings. Since female farmers rarely own the land they work on, they are excluded from important support services provided by the government. However, MAKAAM seeks to empower female farmers by teaching them to assert their rights and gain ownership of their livelihoods and the natural resources that come with it.

These five organizations fighting for women’s empowerment in India are providing important support to all types of women in need all across the country. From female farmers to entrepreneurs and members of vulnerable communities these organizations are elevating an important part of Indian society that is often overlooked or disadvantaged.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Pixabay