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“By Women, For Women”-Encourage Menstrual Hygiene In India

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Sometime after observing World Menstrual Hygiene Day, a community development nonprofit, The Desai Foundation in collaboration with Shantaben Vidhyabhavan announced the expansion of its “by women, for women” Sanitary Napkins Program in Gujarat, India.  The program which provides training, employment and access to sanitary napkins, is expanding the second branch, inorder to reach an additional 250,000 women and girls.

The product manufactured and sold through this initiative is called Asani Sanitary Napkins. The program launch is in accordance with WASH United, the organisation behind World Menstrual Hygiene Day. The program is also aligned with India’s social campaign Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Gender Equality & Good Health and Well Being.

Based in the Gujarat village of Untdi the women are trained to manufacture the menstrual hygiene products, which are high-quality, low-cost sanitary napkins that are 90% biodegradable. An all-women sales team is hired to distribute the pads throughout their communities, creating a self-perpetuating empowerment cycle in which girls and women can take control over their own health and livelihood. The program also provides vital health education in managing menstrual hygiene. This helps to de-stigmatise menstruation, instill in women and girls the importance of self-care, and increases school attendance for girls.

“This is a region where many girls are unaware of periods until the day they wake up bleeding. All the way through adulthood, the taboos around menstruation become a barrier to access and dignity. Our mission with this program is to help women and young girls feel safe in their bodies every week of every month, while also providing employment opportunities that will ultimately impact entire communities,” said Megha Desai, President of The Desai Foundation.

The Desai Foundation’s Asani Sanitary Napkins program offers two types of employment: manufacturing and sales. The employment opportunities are created for women from 17 surrounding villages near Shantaben Vidhyabhavan. The manufacturing process employs 13 women per group (64 total women), who operate 7 easy-to-use machines in a safe and comfortable spaces. The sales team focuses on education and distribution of the product to other women in the community.

“The sales component is particularly important to the integrity of the program, as it is core to our mission of cultivating dignity, jobs and health,” Desai continued. “We do not give anything away for free. The key to empowering people is not to make them feel helpless, but to demonstrate that they are worth investing in. The ‘by women, for women’ approach also ensures that women feel comfortable buying the products in their own home, or in the presence of other women they know and trust. It inspires dignity, self-worth and a sense of belonging.”

“Poor menstrual hygiene management caused by a combination of taboos and stereotypes, a lack of education, and limited access to hygienic products and infrastructure holds back millions of women and girls globally. In India, 50% of all girls have no knowledge about menstruation and how to manage it when they have their first period. We believe that a world where every woman and girl can manage her menstruation hygienically, with confidence and without stigma is possible,” said Nirmala Nair, Managing Director, India, WASH United.

This program expansion is partially funded through the GlobalGiving Girl Fund grant, which awarded to The Desai Foundation in March, offers financial support for the program until the end of the year. The program is also supported by the annual Lotus Festival in Boston.

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The CSR Journal Team