Maharashtra NGO initiative targets menstrual stigma to reduce school dropouts

Under ‘Ujaas’, an initiative launched in collaboration with the state government, awareness sessions are conducted at government schools
Maharashtra's Ujaas programme launched
Maharashtra's Ujaas programme launched(EdexLive photo)

In Maharashtra, a new initiative by a non-profit organisation aims to eradicate the social and cultural stigma surrounding menstruation, a key factor in the high dropout rate among adolescent girls. The ‘Ujaas’ programme, launched in collaboration with the state government, conducts awareness sessions in government schools to address this pressing issue.

As many as 20 per cent of girls drop out of school upon reaching puberty due to a lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, which also contributes to school absenteeism, said Ujaas founder Advaitesha Birla.

Speaking to PTI, she said, “According to reports, it is estimated that 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to menstruation-related issues. We feel that increasing awareness, accessibility and affordability will help reduce the drop-out rates, especially in rural areas.”

The initiative launched by Aditya Birla Education Trust aims to create a supportive and positive ecosystem involving girls, parents, and community members, teachers, and boys. “Lack of awareness of menstrual hygiene leads to infections and reproductive health issues, menstrual disorders, psychological distress, and pregnancy complications among others,” Birla stated.

“Many girls don’t even know what menstruation is until their first period, which we found early on to be a significant knowledge gap. We address affordability and accessibility by distributing sanitary napkins for free, ensuring girls have the resources they need once they are aware,” she said.

He further added — “We have permissions from the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and are working towards getting approvals for more schools. This reflects the government’s interest in supporting this initiative,” Birla added. In many cases, schools and local communities are initially not willing to allow awareness sessions to be held due to the stigma associated with menstruation, she noted.

In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ujaas has also started a production unit for reusable sanitary napkins at Jalna in central Maharashtra. “We have begun training women and now have a fully functioning production unit with 25 self-help group women in Jalna. We are planning to expand this model to other parts of the country once we establish and see how this unit works,” Birla said, PTI reported.

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