SANDEEP SINGH | Sep 9, 2019 | 5 min read
Meenakshi Kumari is in charge of the Pink Room, part of the menstrual hygiene project, at the Bhai Kahan Singh Girls School, Nabha. The 10+2 student, who is the school’s head girl, also handles the sanitary pad vending machine, installed about six months ago in the room.
“As girls comfortably discuss menstruation with one another, we have given them the responsibility to run this project,” said a teacher Sukhjeet Kaur. Meenakshi, with the help of a few other girl students, is quite comfortable with the responsibility.
“Earlier, students used to take half-day or full-day leave during their periods, fearing blood stains on clothes,” said Meenakshi. “Now, thanks to the vending machine, we don't fear anything. Also, they knew nothing about pads. They would use cloth on the advice of their mothers, which was unhygienic. All that has changed since the installation of the vending machine in our school.”
The pads dispensed are easily affordable by the students. “The market price of pads is Rs 30-35, but in the school, the same pad is available for two rupees,” noted Meenakshi. When asked about its impact on her personal life, she shared that her father is a labourer who doesn’t earn enough even to afford her school fees (her teachers help her with the fees). In such a scenario, buying a Rs30 pad is a pipe dream for the likes of her. That’s why Rs2 pads are such an important intervention for her.
This is a sentiment echoed by other students like Latasha, also a 10+2 student whose father earns a living ironing clothes, and Liza, a hairdresser's daughter. Most of the students in this region go only by their first name.
“We hold monthly lectures and seminars about menstruation, which has eliminated hesitation over the once-taboo subject,” said teacher Ramandeep Kaur. “Ours is a government school, so most students belong to low-income families and can't afford sanitary pads at market prices. And their parents thought sanitary pads were a waste of money. But the vending machine has spread awareness among students and girls now know that using pads is hygienic.”
Also, earlier, students out of shyness, used to throw menstrual waste in washrooms or flush them down the toilet. Now, an incinerator has been installed in the school and girls use it to dispose the pads in an eco-friendly way.
One positive outcome of the installation of the vending machine is that it has led to an increase in enrolment and attendance in school. “Before the machine’s installation, the school had approximately 1,400 students,” said Sukhjeet Kaur. “Today, this school is the largest in Patiala district with over 1,600 girl students.”
Girls in schools where the vending machine is installed say they have benefited hugely. “We no longer go on leave during periods,” said Manisha, a student of Bhaddi school in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (SBS) district. “Due to this project, we got much knowledge regarding menstrual hygiene.”
school Principal Aruna Pathak said girls no longer shy away from discussing menstruation. Added teacher Ramandeep Kaur: “We give timely information about periods to girls in classes and in the morning assembly.”
Involving boys too
Garlon Bet’s government school in SBS district has gone a step further by creating awareness on menstruation among its male students too. Sparsh, a male student and a member of the school's menstrual hygiene club, said their club spreads awareness about menstruation in villages.
“We didn’t know about menstruation until our teacher told us about the topic,” said fellow student Raju. “I openly talk about periods at my home and here in school with girls too. On May 28, Menstrual Hygiene Day, we took out a rally to make people aware of this topic. Ma’m had given us pads, which we gifted to our sisters at home.”
“We started this menstrual hygiene project in 2015,” said Pardeep Kaur, a teacher. “Due to Bet area’s backwardness, we focused not only on school girls but on our whole area. We take out rallies in different villages. We held a poster making competition in which even boys participated. Apart from this, once in a month the school organises menstrual hygiene lectures for girls. When we started the project, girls were too shy to even say ‘pad’. They used the word ‘toffee’ instead. Now, they come and ask for pads.”
Government School of Railmajra, also in SBS district, is witnessing a menstrual hygiene revolution. “The taboo has ended,” said teacher Ravinder Kaur. “Compared with the pre-machine era, our school’s attendance has increased. The girls share the information with their mothers about the benefits of using pads. The incinerator has provided an easy way to dispose off used pads.”
The schoolgirls also take out rallies in the village talking about menstrual hygiene. “The vending machine has changed everything,” asserted teacher Veer Davinder Kaur
“Our lives have changed a lot. We now neither fear anything nor feel the need to take a leave during periods,” said Kirandeep Kaur, a student and daughter of a truck driver. A sentiment echoed by Tashmeena Kumari, a factory worker's daughter.
The vending machines were donated by Khwahish Seva Society, an NGO founded by Canada-based Punjabi NRI Gyandeep Khepar, supported by Rotary Club of Grand Prairie, Canada. Till now, under its ‘Healthy Girls, Healthy Future’ programme, the NGO has installed vending machines and incinerators in 50 government schools spread across eight districts of Punjab. The project has benefited approximately 8,000 girls. According to Khwahish society, the low price of Rs2 is the result of funding provided by the NGO and a legacy FMCG company.
“We wanted to do something for our village,” said Ashok Kumar, Chairperson of Khwahish Sewa Society on the genesis of the project. Thanks to society’s efforts, easily accessible and affordable sanitary pads have changed the lives of rural girl students.
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