Bengaluru, Jan 25: What happens when seven successful working women from diverse fields join hands to bring change in society? They simply create WOW.
This is the story of Bengaluru-based NGO WOW--World of Women--in a nutshell. WOW is working in the field of menstrual health and hygiene, an issue that is hogging the limelight, thanks to Bollywood's upcoming film, Pad Man.
Pad Man, starring actor Akshay Kumar, is based on the true-life story of Tamil Nadu activist Arunachalam Muruganantham. Muruganantham was one of the first few "do-gooders" in the country who decided to work in the field of menstrual health and hygiene by providing low-cost sanitary napkins to poor women in rural areas.
Like Muruganantham, Bengaluru's seven women-- Vandana Boggaram, Vinitha Suraj, Kavitha Garla, Sandhya Chandran, Preethi Dadu, Nirmala Nayak and Shravani Thalanki--moved by the plight of poor and rural women, who still have no access to sanitary napkins, decided to up come up with cost-effective menstrual kits.
Through their six-month old NGO, the seven women are meeting, talking and educating women and men on menstrual health and hygiene in Bengaluru and neigbouring rural areas.
Explaining about the kits, Kavitha, who heads the business development for Talk Temple, a corporate training and leadership coaching organisation, told OneIndia, "We work in the field of menstrual hygiene. As a part of our work, we not only distribute menstrual kits among our beneficiaries but also educate women and girls about the myths and taboos associated with mensuration and empower them with the right knowledge to handle their periods in a smart way."
Each WOW kit includes one year supply of quality sanitary napkins, soaps and two panties, which help poor and rural women to have safe, clean and happy periods.
So far, WOW has distributed the kits to factory workers in urban areas, school girls in rural areas, orphanages and domestic helps, to name a few. Each kit costs Rs 500.
"Our work is financed by our donors. Along with distributing menstrual kits to women, we educate men, women, girls and boys about periods to break the taboos and myths associated with something which is so natural," added Garla.
When asked about the reason behind deciding to work in the field of menstrual health, the seven members of the NGO in unison stated that "we want to help less-advantaged women and girls to lead a healthy life by adopting hygienic means during menstruation."
The members of WOW added that there lies a huge gap in the field of menstrual hygiene in spite of several well-known organisations doing their bit to empower women/girls.
"We want to bridge that gap and have started our journey with a few small steps. We have miles to go," they smiled.
When they first started their work in the field they found that males (generally working members of families) in poor and rural areas don't give money to women to buy sanitary napkin as they considered it as a "luxury".
The women are forced to use clothes, newspapers, ashes and husk sand during their periods. Thus they suffer from various health-related problems, including irregular periods.
For a majority of these women/girls period time is nothing less than horror. They go through tremendous amount of stress and trauma as they are forced to remain indoors without any proper means to keep themselves clean and comfortable.
The members of WOW have found out that because of periods many women have lost their jobs and girls stopped going to schools.
According to reports due to lack of awareness and poverty, thousands of menstruating women/girls don't use sanitary napkins in India. Thus, incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) are very common among these women.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 report shows that the use of sanitary napkins among Indian women is 48.5 per cent in rural, 77.5 per cent in urban and 57.6 per cent total. Reports say in India, 24 per cent teenagers are forced to skip their schools owing to menstruation.
When asked what kind of response they generally get when they meet people and talk about periods, Garla said, "It's overwhelming".
"They want to talk about periods. They are not shy about it. In fact, women sometimes are ready to fight to get our kits. Every time we have distributed kits, women and girls come to us to tell us how thankful they are for solving their biggest problem for a year," said Garla.
Till date, WOW has conducted five outreach programmes that tragetted at least 1,000 women. In 2018, the NGO has several plans, including their programme with jail inmates at Parappana Agrahara Central Prison in Bengaluru.
Some of the programmes undertaken by WOW till date are--education and kit distribution event at Sarathy International for 150 women, education session at Parikrma, Jayanagar for 150 children, distribution and education session at Jagranhalli Government School for 150 women and education and distribution event of 150 kits at St Mary's School, to name a few.
Appreciating the work of WOW, Prachi Soni, HR Business Partner Lead of Pegasystems, said, "It was wonderful collaborating with WOW and creating an impact in an area which is so important in a life of a woman. WOW has picked up a very important quadrant by focusing on menstrual health of women and we are glad that we could partner with them by providing kits to 100 underprivileged girls at St Mary's school."
All the seven members of the NGO have their daily jobs and families to attend. In spite of all the constraints, WOW members have made it a point to take up an issue which is so pertinent yet so neglected.
While Boggaram, founder and managing trustee of WOW is the director of Sarathi International Inc, an export house, Suraj is the Founder Director of Vitruvia, a brand studio, Chandran is a management professional by training, Dadu is an event stylist by profession, Nayak is a yoga and chakra therapist and Thalanki is a tax expert.
The members of WOW take pride in the fact that they all belong to diverse fields, in terms of their profession, but together they are working for women empowerment by focusing on the cause of menstrual hygiene.
As the movie Pad Man is all set to release on February 9, WOW has tied-up with Vega City Mall in Bengaluru to conduct a fund raising and awareness programme on February 13. Those who are interested in the event can write to WOW. It's email id is firstname.lastname@example.org.