The 'Pad women' of Bihar: How these young girls set up a sanitary napkin bank in their village

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Despite being scolded by their family members for wasting money, these girls started using sanitary napkins. But buying pads from local vendors every month was awkward.

Hardiya — a village in Bihar’s Nawada district — has got its 'pad women'. Yes, in the plural.

A group of 12 young girls have set up a sanitary napkin bank with their own contribution to managing their menstrual hygiene

This has been made possible through an initiative by the Population Foundation of India which facilitated setting up of Kishori (adolescent) clubs in two districts of Bihar. The members get together on a regular basis to learn, discuss and generate awareness on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights of women.

Menstrual health was not a part of their regular discussion.

But once the cluster coordinator of an NGO partner in Nawada noticed that a member had not been attending regular meetings for about two months — because of severe menstrual cramps and sanitation-related concerns — the issue was taken up.

From then on, menstrual hygiene management became a regular topic of discussion in the club.

Taboos are many.

They now have a bank of sanitary napkins. Bulk buying is cost-effective too. (Photo: Writer)

We can’t deny how menstruation and menstrual health management have been obscured by a culture of silence that has allowed misinformation and discriminatory practices to perpetuate. Shame and associated stigma changed a natural biological phenomenon into a 'taboo'.

Seema Kumari, the head of the Kishori Club in Hardiya village, said that the awareness-building programme related to child marriage, teenage pregnancy and menstrual hygiene has been greatly beneficial to all the girls.

“The issue that I felt most strongly about was menstrual hygiene and sanitary napkins. While we had prior knowledge on the subject, we did not know enough. Didi (cluster coordinator) told us about the dangers of using cloth and the risk of contracting life-threatening infections from unhygienic sanitary practices. She also told us about the benefits of using hygienic sanitary products and explained to us the positive impact it can have on our education and overall life. After we were made aware of the serious implications of poor menstrual hygiene, we took a collective decision to tackle this issue,” she said.

Menstrual hygiene management became a regular topic of discussion in the club. (Photo: Writer)

The members of the Kishori club decided to start using sanitary napkins, but many girls hesitated as they were not comfortable buying pads from local vendors in the village.

“Each of us started saving 1 rupee from our pocket money and set up a fund to buy sanitary napkins. We also began distributing napkins from our ‘sanitary bank’ to girls who could not afford to buy or contribute to the fund,” said Seema.

Bulk purchase of sanitary napkins also helped the young girls to save money.

While initially, the girls’ families reprimanded them for wasting time on such issues, they later became supportive when they heard about the importance and necessity of menstrual hygiene.

“We have made it a point to share our knowledge on menstrual hygiene with our friends in school and encourage girls to switch to sanitary napkins instead of cloth, rags, and so on,” she said.

Menstrual hygiene: The obstacles are many — in both reel and real life. (Photo: Screenshot of PadMan)

The twelve young girls from the Kishori club of Hardiya have been hailed as heroes and are constantly thanked by families for their efforts in taking charge of promoting sanitation and spreading awareness on menstrual health.

Data suggests that girls are largely at par with boys up to adolescence, but with the onset of puberty,the educational outcomes of girls begin to diverge and they face increasing restrictions on their mobility and agency.

According to a 2015 report by Dasra, about 23 per cent of girls drop out of school annually because of lack of awareness and poor menstrual hygiene management.

Young girls like Seema Kumari have taken it upon themselves to break the myths and the culture of silence to ensure that girls from their community have access to hygienic sanitary products in order to continue their education.

Even though these girls belong to a remote village, with very little exposure to the outside world, they have surmounted social pressures and economic constraints to find ways to deal with the everyday challenges in menstrual health management.

Also Read: From periods to women's pleasure to PCOS: The three talk taboos we broke in 2018