Menstruation made a blessing by Ananya Chhaochharia

“Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength” – G.D Anderson.

A 24 years intersectional feminist hailing from the city of joy, Kolkata, has been working on women empowerment by aiming to provide them menstrual hygiene and abolish period poverty in our country through the organisation namely “Paint it Red”.

An initiative started by Miss Ananya Chhaochharia, Paint it Red was conceived when once travelling to Bihar, she suddenly started menstruating and couldn’t find a sanitary napkin in over 250kms radius. This incident made her think about how the non-availability of sanitary napkins is predominant in many parts of our country, because of which many women and girls are suffering. Not only that, she also realised that adolescent girls are still are unaware about menstruation, and treat it as a taboo. To tackle the problem, Paint it Red was launched with a prior concern to educate girls and women about the phenomenon.

The organization along with several other NGO’s is focused on working for the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)through a campaign called “Bleed in Peace”. The initial operation started off with the distribution of reusable sanitary pads among poor women. An amount of approx4lakhs was raised through crowdfunding and personal donations for the same. Miss Chhaochharia says, “that the necessity of having sanitary napkins does not find its place in the pyramid, which comprises the needs of essential needs of life roti, kapda aur makaan”. Her main purpose is to create accessibility of sustainable products by subsidising the rates of menstrual cups and cloth pads. Till date she, along with multiple NGO’s has distributed 2,000 odd menstrual kits in and around Kolkata, and other cities. Each kit consisted of three reusable and washable pads, which lasts up to 1 ½ to 2 years. Although distribution of these reusable cloth pads has been a difficult task on several fronts for both Paint it Red and the associate NGO Anahat Foundation, which works for women health and child safety, there’s no stopping for them to serve the cause.

In India only 18% of the total menstruating women population have access to sanitary napkins, and for the remaining it’s a major problem because of the affordability and availability. Concern around affordability and availability has become more prominent as the livelihood has been majorly affected due to the lockdown. Sooner or later this pandemic has to come to an end, but period poverty will still prevail and women will continue to suffer. It is critical for women to use sustainable or reusable products as it not only supports women during many period cycles but also helps manage waste, making the process environment friendly.

Every initiative comes with lots of challenges, for example WASH and other elite workshops and programmes are helping women and girls, but if we go in depth, they do not fully achieve the desired impact. Given the taboos and stereotypical mindset, it is difficult for women to think or start using menstrual cups however, Paint it Red has done a commendable job of creating awareness, and has initiated the process of using menstrual cups among few rural women, whose numbers are drastically increasing. Fundraising remains another challenge and is an issue for many, especially the section of men who feel that contributing to sanitary napkins is less useful than contributing to ration or PPE kits etc.

 Menstrual Hygiene Management is a sensitive aspect as it is an interceptional issue. Paint it Red is working at the grass root level and is aiming to the bridge the gaps that have been left behind by other big organisations, who are fighting for causes such as the sex workers, differently abled, and the caste-based discrimination. Paint it Red is also working on resolving multiple issues related to lack of sanitation, disposability of sanitary napkins, and unavailability of clean water. The organisation deeply believes that acquiring knowledge is a continuous process. And thus, they have initiated an outlet to educate themselves and other like-minded people by conducting a series of talks, namely “Talk Period to me”, where professionals from different zones, countries are invited to shed light on the topic of their expertise.

Miss Ananya remains an inspiration to all the young females. In a very short span of time she has done a commendable job of educating the adolescents and of helping rural women with the usage of washable cloth pad. She has taught many that nothing is impossible, and also that it remains our responsibility to take care of our surroundings and give back to the society in every possible way.

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