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Sustainable model to end period poverty and empower women with livelihood, hygiene and dignity

My name is Anoushka Kunder and I am currently a senior at JP Stevens High School in Edison New Jersey.

I am very passionate about women's issues.

Instead of sitting in silence or virtue signaling on social media, I want to learn more about the economic and social inequities in our society and understand them in a nuanced way.

I am particularly interested in delving deeper into the gender biases and the experiences of marginalized women who face discrimination on multiple fronts in the South Asian community. I actively participate and volunteer for several causes surrounding social justice issues, international affairs, and women’s issues.

My latest project focuses on the movement to end period poverty, broadly defined as limited access to menstrual hygiene products, including sanitary products, toilets, and waste management. In many regions of the world, women and young girls are unable to afford sanitary products either due to financial hardships or a lack of accessibility.

A few years ago, I viewed the Hindi movie "Pad man" highlighting the struggles of an Indian woman from a less fortunate, remote village who was condemned to sit in isolation from her family, eat from separate utensils and use a dirty rag during "that time" of the month. The shame and stigma surrounding periods stems from a lack of education and conversation surrounding the topic.

Consequently, I wanted to educate myself and take action, I questioned; Does this happen only in India? Asia? What about the rest of the world? Unfortunately, I discovered that the problem persists in varying degrees all over. In today’s world, period products are considered a privilege to many rather than a basic necessity.

A study conducted by U by Kotex reveals that one in four people struggled to purchase female hygiene products due to lack of income. Due to financial hardships one in five women miss work or school since they can’t afford these products. The women associate their periods with shame, disappointment, and depression. According to UNICEF, in India, only 12% of menstruators have access to sanitary products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as an alternative.

After continuing to read up on Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who inspired the movie “Pad man”, I found that he devised a low-cost machine that could be operated with minimal training and used cost effective natural and sustainable raw material. This machine allowed for new jobs to be produced, household income for many women, and affordable pads to enable many more women to live their livelihood during menstruation.

The project - Drawing inspiration from Arunachalam’s model, I put forth a project proposal to VT Seva Mahila Arogya Vikas that involves manufacturing sanitary products in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. In this place, we intend to procure raw materials, employ underprivileged women, and train them to operate the machines to manufacture and package sanitary napkins. These low cost (or free) sanitary napkins will be distributed to women in local slums and surrounding villages. Overall, this model offers livelihood, hygiene, dignity, and empowerment to women using a sustainable business framework.

I truly want to thank VT Seva for believing and supporting the vision and guiding me through the process.

Through this project, I hope to spread awareness on this issue, destigmatize periods, and genuinely make a change. If possible, we’d love it if you could donate to help us achieve our mission.

Your support is crucial!

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