For a woman in a well-developed urban location in India, getting a hygienic sanitary napkin when she menstruates is not even a considerable question. Geeta Bora, who herself was far from difficult circumstances, noticed these harsh realities. Geeta Bora, a software engineer by profession, did her Masters and Ph.D. in Computer Science in India and worked in an organization called ETH (Education to Home) for 6 years. She has been a Project leader for many software projects based upon e-learning and digitization of education. In search of better career prospects, she moved to the US in 2009.
With the large number of companies producing and selling sanitary napkins in the local markets, such provisions relieve the urban women from various hygiene issues associated with menstruation. But imagine a scenario in a rural or an underdeveloped urban pocket, where a woman is uncertain even for two meals a day for herself. Can she afford a packet of Rs.8- Rs.10 sanitary napkins each during her periods? On top of it, the numerous menstrual taboos embedded in Indian societies do not even let her find her ways out to maintain a hygienic environment for herself during menstruation.
In India, only 12 % of the 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins. The remaining either cannot afford sanitary napkins or succumb to social pressures and instead use unhygienic substances such as newspapers, sand, leaves, mud, or unsterilized clothes/rags. Such unhygienic practices lead to Itching, Burning, Vaginal and Urinary Tract Infections, Infertility, and other reproductive health complications, Cervical Cancer, and even death during childbirth. Cervical cancer alone kills around 73,000 women in India every year.
To put things in a broader perspective –
1) 80% of surveyed women store their menstrual cloth in a hidden dirty place for repeated use.
2) 40% failed to change their clothes frequently or wash them with soap after use. They were too ashamed to wash their sanitary clothes in open and worn over the soaked and dirty cloth for the entire day without a change.
3) 50% Failed to dry their menstrual rags outside and in full sun which is an essential condition required to kill bacteria. Lack of privacy, safety, and toilets made things worse.
4) At least 1 in 5 Indian girls drop out of school due to menstruation. Combined with a social stigma that has been handed down for generations, many girls feel too ashamed to go to school at all, with up to a quarter of schoolgirls in India leaving school when they reach puberty.
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“I worked in the US for more than 8 years but I always wanted to work for my home country and finally this year in April I made my mind to leave my job and settle down in India. I won’t say it is an easy life here back home. Though I did like cars and comfort in life and the bling at one time, you can’t hug your Ferrari at night! Life is nothing but a constant pursuit of happiness and happiness isn’t about making and receiving, it is about giving and sharing”, expresses Geeta.
Geeta Bora noticed a lot of gaps in various domains of rural development. She wishes to work on a lot of such issues. To start with, menstrual hygiene for rural women is an issue she wishes to cater to. Her initiative, Bleed with Pride, is an effort to provide cheap sanitary napkins to poor women, those who cannot afford it. The goal is to provide a year’s supply of sanitary napkins for a woman in less than Rs.250. Geeta has already started working on the customization of machines that are desirable for producing low cost eco-friendly sanitary napkins. Many rural women are also being trained for the effective distribution of these sanitary napkins to the desired beneficiaries. Geeta Bora is planning to open up a manufacturing unit in Pune soon.
To diversify her work, she also established the Spherule Foundation, a Pune based NGO working for the less fortunate and economically weaker sections of society, especially in the fields of women empowerment, education, and health.