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Support A Woman – setting the wheels of change in motion

Kavita is a 16-year-old girl who lives in a low-income community in Mumbai. She is currently preparing for her 10th grade examinations. She lives with her family and helps her mother with household chores. Her father passed away last year, and that puts additional pressure on her family’s finances. Therefore, when Kavita had extreme stomach ache every month during her menstrual cycle, understandably, she did not see a doctor, get tests done or ate nutritious food . She did not use sanitary pads because she cannot afford them. Instead, she used cloth that, she says, caused discomfort and rashes and was difficult to dry within the confines of the community she lives in.

20-year-old Jyoti wakes up at 5am every morning and travels to Belapur to work for a job that pays her Rs.5000 (USD 100) every month. The commute to and from work takes more than three hours. She lives with her aunt, brothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces. Apart from her work, she is expected to help out with household chores. She packs her lunch of a meager two pieces of bread and some vegetable. During her menstrual cycle, her flow is heavy and that causes acute weakness and impedes her productivity at work, leave alone the trauma of the daily travel.  Her mother passed away at a very young age. No one in her family has ever spoken to her about periods – what she should do, how she should deal with it, what she should eat, how she should take care of herself.

Sakina divides her time between studying for her Bachelor of Arts examination and giving tuitions to children of the low-income community she lives in. The latter fetches her Rs.1500-2000 (USD 40) that she uses to fend for her educational expenses. She is studying social sciences but aspires to become a teacher of Urdu. Her orthodox family of five sisters and two brothers makes it challenging for her to devote time and energy to her fulfilling her dream. Resources are limited and measured, and that means even drinking water  does not flow freely in the family.

All these young girls and many more converged at the first round of health camps conducted by the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) as part of Support A Woman program of Nadathur Trust supported by the Stayfree women For Change campaign. In this round, they  underwent hemoglobin tests and were given a course of iron-folic acid tablets. They also attended the awareness and counseling sessions by doctors who provided them with valuable advice on dealing with the problems they face during periods. All the above were made available to them through donations of generous benefactors who have contributed to the program. Johnson & Johnson added to this by giving away 6 months’ worth of Stayfree sanitary pads free of cost. Three months later, these girls have come again for a second round of health camps. All the girls today are, first and foremost, educated to take care of themselves. They all admit to drinking more water, drinking milk every night during their periods, and eating more vegetables and proteins on a regular basis. They also acknowledge that the use of sanitary pads has changed their lives. “I am able to focus on my studies without having to worry about my health”, says Sushma with a flash of her smile. This is proven by the increase in their hemoglobin levels, which has shot up from an average of 8 g/dL to 12 g/dL in the 3 months of intervention. What’s more, they have even taken it upon themselves to educate the other women in their families and communities. “I make sure my sisters also use sanitary pads and drink milk,” Deepika tells us.

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Menstrual health and hygiene have always been both a taboo and an object of neglect for traditional low-income Indian families. Details are not openly discussed, money is spent frugally on such needs, mothers hardly know enough themselves to advise their daughters on what should be done. This results in low productivity, dropping out of school, ill hygiene, malnourishment and long-term health issues for women. It is time to challenge this obstacle; it is time to educate the girls on their right to take care of themselves and how best to go about it.

Responding to this massive challenge, Johnson & Johnson, in partnership with Samhita Social Ventures, launched the Support A Woman program through which donations are solicited and routed to conducting such health camps in low-income communities. Still in its infancy, the program has found overwhelming support from donors from across all walks of life, both men and women, who have generously given for a cause that is hardly ever brought up and fought for. The FPAI has conducted five such health camps till date, reaching out to hundreds of girls and women. All beneficiaries will  undergo two such health camps to know their needs better and be inspired by the improvements they see in their health.

The Support A Woman program is an initiative of the Stayfree Women For Change campaign that partners with UNICEF and several other women’s health related NGOs to ensure that every girl and woman has a healthy and hygienic lifestyle. Currenly, health camps are being conducted in partnership with NGOs such as FPAI and Ojus Medical Institute.  The replicable nature of this program makes it possible to scale it up to a national level with health camps being conducted in urban and rural areas of all Indian states. With more and more donations pouring in, this does not remain a dream anymore.

Your donation can positively impact the life of a girl today. By donating Rs.330, you can help a girl be aware of what her rights are and what she needs to do to lead a healthy lifestyle. You can choose to donate to more than one girl, and donate repeatedly. For every girl you support, you will receive detailed reports with information on your beneficiary, complete with the medical test results that will help you chart the improvement in her health.