BHOPAL: Like social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, Maya Vishwakarma is on a mission to educate girls and women about menstrual health and usage of sanitary napkins in tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh.
The 35-year-old scientist, who returned to Narsinghpur district after her research on leukemia at the University of California in San Francisco, will embark on her project, ‘Padwoman.’
It was the experience of unsafe menstrual hygiene during her graduate-post graduate days in Jabalpur and junior research fellowship stint at the AIIMS-Delhi that made Maya think about finding an effective yet affordable solution for her ilk.
“Talking about periods and menstrual health was a taboo and also a stigma even for me during my college days. But as a cancer biologist in the US, the importance of menstrual health dawned upon me,” Maya told The Sunday Standard. “After my return to hometown, I decided to not only educate girls and women across tribal MP about the importance of safe menstrual health, but also to provide them safe and effective sanitary pads.”
The cancer biologist has already reached out to about 2,000 tribal girls and women. “Most adolescent girls and young women I’ve met so far use rags, old clothes, unsanitised cloths and, in extreme circumstances, newspaper, husks and dried leaves during menstruation. This is bound to increase their susceptibility to Reproductive Tract Infection and associated cancers at a young age,” Maya says.
Maya has set up a manufacturing unit whose innovative machine was built by engineering-management graduates Anurag and Birag Bohre from Gwalior.
“The money for the machine and the unit was sourced through crowd funding, personal savings and from friends working abroad for the California and India chapter of the Sukarma Foundation founded by me,” Maya says. “It was while scouting for the best and cost efficient machinery for producing sanitary pads that I met the real ‘Padman’ (Muruganatham) two years ago and saw the machine being used by him.”
From the next week, Maya will travel through tribal districts. “Our target is to reach out to girls at 450-plus schools in 21 districts and educate them about the importance of safe menstrual health to make the entire trek a public movement.”
In the pipeline is another plan to find donors who can fund the mission to produce and distribute sanitary pads free of cost. For now, Maya who has earned the moniker of ‘Pad-jiji’ is helped by tribal women from Narsinghpur district in running the unit.
The big divide
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), just 42% girls/women aged between 15-24 years use sanitary napkins. 62% use cloth, while 16% use locally prepared sanitary napkins. Overall, 58% of women in the 15-24 age group use a hygienic method of menstrual protection.
Women with 12 or more years of schooling are more than four times as likely to be using a hygienic method as women with no schooling (81%
48% of rural women use a hygienic method of menstrual protection, compared with 78% of urban.
Among the same age group women in MP, 78% use cloth, while 24% use sanitary napkins, 15% use locally prepared napkins, and 3% use tampons.