Flowers are passé – Red FM gave out sanitary pads this Women’s Day

I studied in an all girls’ school for twelve years, growing up with the same group of classmates. Understandably, we went through mental and physical changes that comes with age at pretty much the same time – including the onset of menstruation.

One would assume this would make us comfortable with discussions about this most natural process with one another, but it wasn’t. Anytime someone suffered from a cramp, she would cite “fever” for feeling under the weather. If we had to excuse ourself from P.T., we would whisper the reason to the teacher, beyond anyone else’s earshot. If one had to change her sanitary pad, she would quickly slip it into her pocket and head out of the classroom, cautious not to let any corner of the green/white package show.

The display of such shame associated with periods is unexpected in girls coming from educated and moderately well to do families (with easy access to sanitary napkins that are quite expensive), and one can imagine the stigma to be far worse among girls from a lesser privileged background.

RJ Abhishek, RJ Nilam, and RJ Praveen (front-to-back) Also, what business do RJs have being so cute?

Surprisingly, it’s a radio station, and not a civic body as one would expect (or not), that has emerged as the superhero to save the day – Red FM kick started an initiative on International Women’s day, aptly named Pad Habit, to install vending machines dispensing sanitary napkins at 50 government run schools for underprivileged girls in Kolkata. The cost attached is remarkably low – INR10 for a pack of three.

“We received an anonymous letter from a girl a few days before women’s day, the content of which shook us up,” says Priyanka Sen, the Programming head at Red FM. “It cited the embarrassment she faced in school due to periods, and how it restricted her from carrying out day to day activities including something basic like visiting the temple. Since this hindered her ability to seek help from god, she sought help from us instead to have her voice heard.”

Red FM’s endeavour was carried out in collaboration with SEED, an NGO with prior experience in spreading awareness of menstrual health. Together they set about educating school girls on the importance of maintaining hygiene during periods and pad usage, and working to remove the stigma surrounding this natural monthly process with RJs speaking about Indian women achievers who did not let periods keep them from reaching their goals.

As Priyanka pointed out, “Many girls reluctant or aren’t allowed to go to school during this time, which sets them back academically.”  Needless to say this move strongly advocates education of the girl child.

Support came from eminent names including Kalki Kochlin, Swara Bhaskar, a slew of Tollywood stars (Parno Mitra, Mimi Chakraborty, Shubhashree, Abir, Parambrata, Bonny), and even Sushmita Dev – an MP who has filed a petition to make sanitary napkins tax free as it is not a luxury item. The individual who probably stood out most among them was Arunachalam Muruganantham – a social entrepreneur from Coimbatore, also known as the Pad Man of India.

As part of #BajaaoForACause, Red FM Kolkata along with NGO SEED, installed sanitary pad vending machines in 50 government girls' schools! #PadHabitSEED Kolkata NGO, RJ Praveen – Red FM RJ Nilam – Red FM RJ Dev RJ Abhishek – Red FM RJ Neil – Red FM Kalki Koechlin Swara Bhasker

Red FM 发布于 2017年3月28日

There are three things to rejoice most in this story – (a) it shows that concern about menstrual hygiene is not a prerogative of women only (b) it brilliantly exemplifies the saying, “where there is a will, there is a way”; the determination of the executives of Red FM (whose head count is far outnumbered by the hundreds if lives they have improved) was all it took to set the ball rolling, (c) it is a stellar case of the change a girl can bring when armed with education.

Unfortunately, this has not gone down well with all players. A rare few school officials and parents of students consider having an open dialogue about menstruation as unnecessary, and see it as a thing to be spoken about privately within their families.

Another aspect that becomes prominent here is the fact that such education it is directed at only one half of the population – females. Having an understanding of menstruation as an inevitable part of human existence for women is as imperative to boys as it is to girls. On this, RJ Praveen (veritably the most popular name – and voice – from Red FM) says, “Boys are generally very awkward with the topic of periods, or it is a subject that they never speak about at all. Perhaps our next step in spreading awareness about menstrual health should be to educate boys about menstruation as well.”

-by Zaiceka Ahmed

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