A 14-year-old girl launched a project to raise awareness about menstruation. Ananya Malde dispeled myths and provided period products to adolescent girls through Project Pragati.
Ananya Malde, was 14-years old when she learned why her house maid’s younger sister had to drop out of seventh grade. The reason was menstruation, and Ananya learned about the societal stigma around it.
Ananya Malde says, “Due to menstruation, they had a large celebration to announce that she is now of marriageable age. I was taken aback when I heard it, and I had no idea how serious the matter was until then, because it didn’t seem like a reason to drop out to me.”
Further web study revealed that the period represents a wider cultural issue restricting chances for young females. According to a survey published by Dasra, as many as 23 million girls drop out of school owing to a lack of basic menstrual hygiene to learn safely in schools. Ananya was inspired to launch Project Pragati, which strives to dispel myths and provide period products to adolescent girls in rural regions.
Ananya entered the 1M1B Future Leader project, a UN-accredited non-profit initiative co-founded by Manav Subodh to foster one million young changemakers, as a grade nine student at National Public School Indiranagar in Bengaluru. She launched the initiative in November 2020 with an emphasis on Gujarat, her native state, because her proficiency in the regional language would help her interact better with the rural populace.
Ananya talked with the sarpanchs of three villages and around a hundred school-aged girls through 1M1B foundation’s NGO partners to assess their understanding of menstruation. She saw a significant absence of period awareness and education among young girls and their parents.
“The parents have no idea what menstruation is or why women get it.Teachers who knew wouldn’t go into detail on the issue, instead skimming over it and telling the class that girls get periods and that’s it. She claims that they are embarrassed to teach or explain to them.
Lack of access to period care products such as sanitary napkins, as well as the means to dispose of them, is another issue. Many people wear clothing because they don’t have access to pads in their area or can’t afford them.
Following the field study, the adolescent decided to run public awareness campaigns and fill up the resources gap in order to solve the issue. The school administrators, on the other hand, needed to be persuaded to allow her to conduct awareness training.
She created a complete menstrual health curriculum in Gujarati that covers everything from puberty through adolescence to period and hormonal changes in the female body, as most internet resources are in English or Hindi. She then held awareness programmes for girls aged 10 to eighteen, explaining the science underlying menstruation.
“They were quite open and comfortable discussing their menstruation with me. They also asked things that they couldn’t ask their parents or professors. The sessions went better than planned since I was their age,” she says.
She began an online fundraising in April 2021 and raised Rs 5.5 lakh, which she used to provide sanitary napkins and have incinerators erected in schools for pad disposal. In December, she returned to Gujarat, this time visiting isolated sections of the Rann of Kutch, where salt workers live in shacks for nine months of the year, from October to June. NGOs have also put up separate shacks for the youngsters to use as classrooms. However, not everyone is familiar with sanitary pads.
Ananya claims that her awareness seminars have had a big influence on them since she taught them how to use a pad, how to dispose of it, and general menstrual hygiene.
She has provided over 30,000 sanitary pads and erected incinerators in two schools, one in Kutch and the other in Vadodara, thus far.
COVID-19, on the other hand, was a major impediment, as she couldn’t travel to Gujarat from Bengaluru for additional field work.
The teenage activist has compiled a list of English-medium government schools in Bengaluru where she intends to have a good impact by holding awareness workshops.
Working in Bengaluru has been difficult for her in the past because she does not speak Kannada.
Ananya Malde has also been chosen to showcase her work at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for the 1M1B Summit.