BENGALURU: What started out as a search for an answer to a colleague’s question has helped Dilip Kumar Reddy, a business management graduate, address a bigger concern— menstrual hygiene in India.
In 2013, while working at Pollinate Energy in Bengaluru, Dilip was asked by an Australian colleague how women in urban slums manage their menstrual cycle. Dilip had no idea. But curious to find an answer, he did some research and read up on unhygienic practices that women follow and the taboos that do not allow hundreds of women to adopt healthier measures. The findings of his field research prompted him to try and bring about more awareness among women and help them adopt better methods to maintain menstrual hygiene.
With this mission in mind, Dilip and his friend Sahana Bhat, a media law graduate, co-founded Sukhibhava in November 2013. “Initially, we only concentrated on providing affordable sanitary products to urban-rural women. But we later realised that menstruation was much more than just products. So we decided to work towards bringing about a behavioural change regarding menstruation among these women,” says Dilip. In order to educate urban-rural women about menstrual hygiene, the organisation follows two steps — training and distribution.
Under training, Sukhibhava identifies communities that need a better understanding about menstruation and begin a five-month awareness programme. Following a baseline research to understand myths, taboos, stigma related to menstruation, a female trainer from the same community is identified. This trainer goes through training for almost two months after which she returns to her community and forms groups comprising 10 to 15 members each. These groups are then taken through various interaction sessions including activities and games.
During these interaction sessions topics such as bodily changes during menstruation, stigmas and taboos related to the issue, clean absorbent products to be used and so on are discussed. The groups meet once in 15 days and reinforce the learnings of the previous session.
Under distribution, a woman from the community is selected to become a micro entrepreneur. After awareness sessions, the micro entrepreneur distributes affordable sanitary products that are manufactured by Bella, a sanitary provider.
Through these micro entrepreneurs, Sukhibhava works directly with slum communities of its four chapters namely North Bengaluru, South Bengaluru, Uttarakhand and Visakhapatnam.
“So far, we have educated about 18,000 women and we reach out to roughly 8,000 women every month. It takes time to bring behavioural change but there is always a sense of satisfaction when after sessions certain women come forward and tell how they will ensure that their next generation shuns taboos and follow menstrual hygiene,” says Sahana.
Revenue model and challenges
With minuscule profits, it takes an extended time to become sustainable as sanitary products are sold at much cheaper rates. Thus, Sukhibhava aims at long- term sustainability. Working in the menstrual hygiene sector was never easy, says Dilip. He adds that financial organisations too sometimes fail to understand the need for the kind of work organisations like Sukhibhava do.
Recognition and the road ahead
Nasscom-backed Sukhibhava has won many recognitions. The organisation now aims to educate one lakh women by 2018 and reach out to at least 1 million women by 2020.