Two young women are educating women about hygiene and sanitation and have distributed nearly five lakh reusable sanitary pads
Picture this: They had been family friends but never got an opportunity to touch base with each other. A chance meeting a couple of years ago led them to get talking about working together. Since then, they have joined hands to co-lead an impact-oriented organisation, Baala, with the main focus of solving menstrual hygiene-related issues through the dual solution of awareness and sustainability.
Meet Soumya Dabriwal and Aradhana Rai Gupta who took up this initiative to educate women about hygiene and sanitation. They have, till date, distributed over 450,000 reusable sanitary pads in India as well as pockets of Nepal, Ghana and Tanzania. Together with their team, Soumya and Aradhana have been travelling to villages across India with their menstruation and sanitation workshops and have so far covered the 16 states of India breaking myths associated with menstruation.
While Soumya studied Economics at the University of Warwick, England and started the social initiative while in college, Aradhana studied Economics at St Stephen’s College and is an MBA from Cornell. Soumya, on her return to India in 2016, took up a job at a development company but continued to run Project Baala simultaneously. While working in rural areas, she understood the magnitude of the menstrual hygiene problem and after seeing the response to her project, she quit her job in 2017 to focus on Project Baala full time. Aradhana joined her in 2018.
In an email interview with Saurabh Tankha, Aradhana shares details about the digital workshop on menstrual hygiene, the tie-up with Delhi government and future plans…
How many reusable sanitary pads were distributed during Covid-19 lockdown?
Since the announcement of the extension of the lockdown, we have distributed over 33,200 free reusable sanitary napkins in marginalised and vulnerable communities. These pads will help the women and girls not only get through the lockdown but also last them for two years. We have launched a digital workshop on menstrual hygiene and have partnered with multiple organisations working on ground to help us disseminate this information. The series, BaalaBytes, is available on our website and YouTube channel.
Are there other issues Baala taken care of for the welfare of women?
We are focussed at providing a complete solution for menstrual health. So along with distributing reusable pads, we conduct fun and interactive workshops consisting of eight modules on topics like the process of menstruation, relieving pain, environmental implications and when to visit the doctor. One of the biggest challenges we face while conducting workshops is the myths and taboos associated with menstruation, passed down generations. The cycle of taboo is difficult to break as women don’t talk about periods openly. Thus, it becomes challenging when our team tries to conduct these workshops. To normalise the conversation and make it more interactive, we conduct workshops for a larger group of at least 100 women. To spread the scale the awareness of menstrual hygiene practices, we have a mobile app, digital library and an illustration handbook. Our reusable pads can be used up to two years and help combat the problems of recurrent purchase, disposal of pads and the high costs of maintaining periods hygienically. These pads are a safe, environment-friendly and affordable solution for menstrual hygiene problems.
Share an incident which became a case study at Baala…
One of the best things about working at Baala is that we get to do a lot of on-ground work. There is a huge emphasis on creating evidence-based impact. It is a humbling feeling to see young women and girls respond well to our workshops and get comfortable talking to us about menstruation. We remember one example, definitely one of the happiest moments for us personally, was when we visited Alwar and decided to go to a school our team had first visited to in 2017. We wanted to take this detour because we wanted to collect some feedback on our solution. The minute we entered the school, we were welcomed by the girls who had met the Baala team in 2017. They remembered our names as well as most of the information from our workshop. They seemed happy to see us again and one girl remarked didi, aapne meri jhijhak nikaal di (didi, I’m not shy anymore of talking about this). That is something that we, at Baala, strive for — to make young women and girls feel more confident through unbiased information about their bodies and periods.
Baala recently had a tie-up with Delhi government. Are more such associations with other state governments in process?
With an aim to reach out to more and more women in need, Baala has tied up with the government of Delhi to distribute eco-friendly, reusable sanitary pads, that the organisation manufactures in-house. This association will allow Baala to spread a strong impact of their noble initiative to over 30,000 females across the Capital city.
Plans for future…
We plan to reach 10 million girls by 2025 with our sustainable menstrual health solution. We are involving tech-based solutions to increase our impact and reach. We have launched an app called Baala Boss to bridge the gap between urban and rural women. It is helping us connect to women who wish to contribute to our cause and help us in our on-ground work and engagement with rural communities. Additionally, with a commitment towards menstrual education and awareness for all, we have created a rich resource of interestingly delivered information about menstrual health and hygiene.
In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, we have digitalised our workshop content into engaging byte-sized videos which traverse the entire spectrum of menstruation-related information. These videos are available in multiple languages to ensure a wider audience reach. We are also launching our audio book on menstrual hygiene in 14 languages. It will be accessible by a toll-free number. Additionally, we have collaborated with a European technology partner to launch our next viable solution for menstrual hygiene.