Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Tackling menstrual hygiene

“I cuddle to the bodies, which my father carries, when I feel cold in winters.” The statement by a seven-year-old Sunita (imaginary name) can horrify anyone. But it made young Anshu Gupta ponder over need for clothing. Soon his thinking turned into a major concern and led him to go beyond clothing which people use to cover their bodies to tackling menstrual hygiene. 

He saw a different dimension of cloth. Now Gupta was thinking of that small piece of cloth which thousands of women in India use and reuse for years as a sanitary napkin.

These sanitary napkins can be an old blouse with hooks or with buttons. It can be a piece torn from a discarded old sheet or an old sari, which is most likely to be full of bugs or full of dirt. These pieces of cloths are used and reused for as long as a year.

Anshu Gupta is the Director of an organisation Goonj, which started with clothing for people during disaster situations.

However the story goes back to Gupta’s childhood when he used to see dirty strips of cloths hanging on clothes line in his neighbourhood. The young boy had no clue what these strips are for. As he grew up he came to know that these are the strips of cloths, which the poor women were using during menstruation.

“Thousands of people die in India due to lack of clothing in winters but I realised that women need cloth for their very important biological need as well which is menstruation – i.e. sanitary napkins. Women reuse same piece of cloth – dry it in shade or damp place – then use it again – sometimes this cloth is shared also,” says Gupta.

Yet, when Gupta questioned the World Bank officials as to how many projects they had funded exclusively for menstrual needs, the answer he got was – none.

Gupta motivated the community women and started his venture to produce sanitary napkins through recycled cloth but which is hundred per cent safe.

The work gradually shifted from sanitary napkins to other useful products made from recycled stuff.

Today the organisation is present in 21 states of the country and working with lakhs of people mostly women. His venture also got employment for many.

Nonetheless, Gupta says he has no desire to grow as an organisation but his dream is to grow the idea and expand to as faraway places as is possible. “People call it genesis of economy but I call it an effort to meet the basic needs of people,” says the humble Gupta.

Lauding his work John Lane the Director WSSCC says, “The lesson to learn from the inspiring stories which are coming to the fore in the Global Forum on Sanitation is either start fresh on a clean slate or carry forward an innovative idea that has proved to be effective.”

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