In a unique initiative, three law students in Kerala have come together to provide sanitary napkins to girls and women, who do not have access to this basic necessity during menstruation.
Sara Fathima (20), Ayushi Dangre (21) and Pritishree Dash (21), all fourth-year students at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS) in Kerala, started the CodeRed project earlier this month. While Sara is a resident of Alleppey, Ayushi and Pritishree hail from Nagpur and Odisha respectively.
The idea for CodeRed stemmed from another project that they were working on. The young women decided to design and sell bookmarks, the proceeds of which would go to Swanthanam, an orphanage near their college.
"After we had collected some money, we went to the orphanage to do a head count. We wanted to buy them material for art and craft. However, on speaking to the orphanage in-charge, we were shocked to know that the girls there had no access to sanitary napkins," says Pritishree.
They found that the girls mostly used cloth and did not seem to have basic provisions like lukewarm water and antiseptic liquids to clean them regularly.
"It is unhygienic and can lead to a lot of diseases," adds Ayushi.
And so they decided to provide them with sanitary pads.
They first approached the girls in their hostel after which they also asked their classmates, including boys, to contribute. And the response has been positive so far.
They collected Rs 1,600 and have already given a month's supply of sanitary napkins to Swanthanam.
Three girls at Swanthanam
People can buy packets of sanitary napkins and hand them over to the CodeRed team who will in turn distribute it to orphanages or NGOs that need them. Alternatively, contributors can also donate money which will be used to buy sanitary pads.
"People don't have to buy luxury sanitary napkins. The regular ones will do just fine. Those interested can also take a monthly subscription of Rs 50 in order to ensure a healthy period for one girl," Pritishree explains.
Not only have they been receiving messages from Kerala and other cities expressing interest in their initiative, the students now also have a sponsor. Desitude, a Kerala-based Khadi venture, will be giving 10 per cent of the proceeds from its sales during the months of September and October to CodeRed.
The students also plan to expand to other cities once they are able to cover Kerala. A CodeRed website, which is currently in the making, is also expected to be launched soon.
According to a 2011 study, 88 per cent of India's 355 million menstruating women did not use sanitary napkins but resorted to the use of unhygienic cloth or other dangerous material including sand and ash.
In addition, 27 per cent of the world's cervical cancer deaths reportedly take place in India and doctors have said that poor menstrual hygiene is partly to blame.
Speaking about the taboo regarding menstruation in the country, Pritishree and Ayushi say that there is a need to first accept that a woman having a period is one of the most natural processes.
They give the example of how one male classmate himself bought six packets of sanitary napkins and gave it to them for the initiative. Another classmate, also male, however, donated two packets anonymously.
"Everyone knows what menstruation is but we don't talk about it openly. Sometimes girls miss classes due to cramps during their periods. If asked why they had not attended classes, they'll say they were sick, or had stomach ache but won't talk about the real reason. Only when we talk about it openly will it lead to change," the duo say.