Published: 02nd June 2020
How 18-year-old Sanjana Dixit started a menstrual movement that has distributed 1.2 lakh pads to women in need
Based out of Bengaluru, Sanjana started Rutuchakra and through it, she conducts effective workshops on menstrual hygiene and she also ensures that even boys and men are part of the conversations
Imagine it's your 16th birthday and you decide to visit an orphanage to celebrate your special day. The celebrations go exactly as planned at the orphanage until you realise you want to use the washroom. Upon being directed to one and opening the door, to your horror, you see it in an unkempt and dirty condition. Looking at its dismal condition, realisation dawns and you begin to understand children have to go through despite the orphanage’s best efforts.
Now, most of us would shrug this off and carry on. But not Sanjana Dixit. Even more so, because being on her period made her realise the plight of the girls who had to use the shabbily maintained bathroom. That was the moment of reckoning for her. Upon discussing how she felt about the whole episode with her parents, they asked her to talk to the NGO directly. "Upon doing that, I realised people donated all sorts of books, clothes and other necessities, but hardly anyone came forward to donate sanitary napkins, which is why the girls had to resort to using unhygienic products," shares Sanjana.
Sanjana talking to girls doing a workshop | (Pic: Rutuchakra)
Immediately, she started gathering funds and her initial goal was Rs 15,000. She surpassed it and reached Rs 50,000 and with the money, conducted a workshop at the same NGO, Thayi Mane, in Benagluru. And just one week before her class X Board exams, she launched Rutuchakra in January 2018. "The goal was to achieve menstrual equity and to ensure that every menstruator should be able to menstruate with dignity along with having access to resources and the right information," says the youngster who pursued PCMB from National Public School, Bengaluru and graduated recently.
Point of discussion
After consultations with gynaecologists, Sanjana developed a framework for these workshops, which she planned to deliver at NGOs and orphanages. "We even spoke to underprivileged girls and women to understand the myths and taboo surrounding menstruation and developed the workshop accordingly," says Sanjana who was born in San Diego. The workshop goes like this — talking about the very basic reason behind menstruation, reproductive health, how it is linked to menstruation, how to identify reproductive disorders and take them seriously, and menstrual hygiene and its importance. "Most women are actually aware of reproductive or menstrual disorders, but don't talk about it or go for consultations because of the taboo surrounding the topic. We encourage them to seek medical help and have conversations about menstruation," explains the 18-year-old. Through the casual and conversational tone they adopt while delivering the workshop, the team attempts to debunk myths surrounding menstruation and make them comfortable with talking about it.
Team Rutuchakra | (Pic: Rutuchakra)
But workshops are not the be all and end all of it, Team Rutuchakra is aware that people tend to lapse back to their old ways if they are not followed up with. So, the team decided to conduct follow-up workshops every six months. "We try to drive home the point, yet again, that menstruation is an empowering process, not something dirty or disgusting, that we are made to believe," says Sanjana, who will be pursuing Molecular and Cell Biology and Economics from University of California, Los Angeles.
Access is top priority
An important part of their workshops is distributing menstrual products, including sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, tampons and so on, depending on what the women or girls are comfortable with. They have conducted up to 20 workshops, for girls who are in class VI to women who are 40 years old, and have distributed over 1,20,000 menstrual products to date. "We understand the sanitary napkins are a menace to the environment, but these women face a severe lack of space and resources. We make them aware of all the pros and cons of using sanitary napkins and even teach them how to dispose it properly, pushing for menstrual cups is a slow process," she admits and they continue to work towards being as eco-friendly as possible. They also ensure that their workshops include men along with women and a part of the workshop is delivered by male members to normalise talking about menstruation.
Distributing sanitary napkins during the lockdown | (Pic: Rutuchakra)
Even for COVID-19 relief, Rutuchakra is working closely with manufacturers of sanitary napkins and organisations and individuals on ground, especially in rural areas, and has helped distribute 50,000 products. "The requests are pouring in and we are trying to do our best," informs Sanjana. She also says that they are conducting several webinars on menstrual awareness, one of which is on making our own pads at home. They are also working out plans to expand to Delhi and Mumbai.
For more on them, check out rutuchakra.org