The pad women of Nagaland

An IPS officer involves local women to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene in a remote Nagaland district, reports Prasanta Mazumdar
Pritpal Kaur drives initiative for increased use of sanitary pads | Express
Pritpal Kaur drives initiative for increased use of sanitary pads | Express

NAGALAND: Teamwork can do wonders. Nagaland’s newly created Noklak district on the Myanmar border is a living example of it. Public ignorance about menstrual hygiene had led to uterus infections. The health department, district police and a group of women weavers and artisans got together and adopted a two-pronged strategy to overcome the problem. They introduced sanitary pads to girls and women in rural areas and began educating them on menstrual hygiene.

The result is for everyone to see. The cases have dropped significantly within a year. For K Newkhai, the chairperson of Khiamniungan Weaving Women Cooperative Society, weaving has been all that she has known. Now, she is providing sanitary pads to villagers. Seven of the society’s 45 registered members are making low-cost pads.

Noklak Superintendent of Police Pritpal Kaur is the face of this novel initiative. She involved local women to tackle the health problem. The 2016 batch IPS officer belonging to Haryana was posted as the Noklak SP last year and it did not take her much time to understand the problem during her interactions with villagers. They consider her as their own; they would approach her to seek solutions to their varied problems. Girls and women with health problems would also consult her as she is a dentist.

“Almost none of them used sanitary pads. Many of them had not heard about hygiene. This made me approach the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) for a pad vending machine. It sent these pads to us. The district police helped in the transportation and installation of the unit,” Kaur said. She then reached out to a cooperative society to make the pads as well as create awareness among villagers. An NIF coordinator was roped in to train the artisans, who are basically into weaving traditional clothes and jewellery. They also learnt the pad-making lessons online from a man in Maharashtra, says the SP.
“We didn’t have a problem with raw material as it was sent along with the machine. Our target in the first phase is to make 50,000 pads. They are sold at `5 apiece but given free to those who cannot afford,” Kaur says. She says the initial plan is to reach the girls and women across Noklak and subsequently explore the adjoining Tuensang district.

“When we started creating awareness, the first thing we learnt was that the village girls and women used cloth during periods but there is a method to it. They had no idea that they should also care for their hygiene part, including proper disposal. After we educated them, the cases of uterus infections have declined drastically. Fewer of them now come to me to seek my help,” Kaur says.

Newkhai says Noklak town and five villages already have access to the society-manufactured pads and awareness on menstrual hygiene has been created across all villages. “We will reach out to the remaining villages soon. These are remote places with no public transport. So we called their leaders and created awareness among them. They in turn educated the villagers,” Newkhai says. When people visit the society to buy pads, society officials utilise the occasion to create awareness among them on menstrual hygiene. Girl students in schools, hostels, etc are also a part of the personal hygiene awareness.

The health department said the concerted efforts are paying off. Noklak’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Victor NC says an indicator of the turnaround is that not many girls and women with the infections visit the district hospital now.

He says routine health talks during the Village Health Nutrition Day, organised by medical teams, also helped spread education. Even during National Nutrition Week, they not only talk about immunisation and nutrition, but also about menstrual hygiene and breastfeeding.

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