A Window Into The World Of Women

Focus on Women’s health, especially women’s menstrual hygiene is a vital part of women empowerment: “Padwoman”

Amanpreet Kaur Passy, in conversation with Siddhi Joshi & Jaya Narayan for HER-WORLD

“The recipients threw away food supplies in the ration bags because they believed them to be “contaminated” by the sanitary pads”, IRS Officer Kaur recalls an incident where pads were included in the ration bags along with food grains.

Every menstruating woman in India has at least one anecdote where they were either not permitted to participate in an activity or were subjected to the judgemental eye of a disapproving elder (or peer) for menstruating. Considering the deep-rooted and widespread stigma regarding the subject in Indian society, it is not surprising that menstrual health and hygiene for all is only a faraway dream. Sadly, even the most developed countries of the world regard the natural process of monthly menstruation as a taboo.

Amanpreet is a  2010 Batch IRS Officer posted as Joint Commissioner Income Tax, in New Delhi. Her superhero activities as “Padwoman” started through her friend, Priyal Bharadwaj. During the initial days of the lockdown, Priyal was running a campaign to feed migrant labourers in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. It was through Priyal’s work that Amanpreet became aware of the struggles of underprivileged women. They had no access to menstrual hygiene products: sanitary pads were not distributed as essential commodities and were too expensive to be purchased independently. Restless and appalled, Kaur decided to take action. After some deliberation on the issue and encouragement from her colleagues, Amanpreet, in collaboration with local NGOs, started distributing sanitary napkins at the ration drives.

Kaur at a distribution drive in her hometown, Ludhiana Photo Credit: Amanpreet Kaur

The initiative was not free from challenges. Social stigma and unawareness around menstruation often prevented many women from accepting the pads at drives. Many women had never seen a pad, let alone used one. Amanpreet started keeping a separate box for the pads at drives, women could now pick them up independently. Yet, this idea came with its own issues; women were reluctant to take pads in front of men. Fortunately, with time and educating conversations, women eventually started taking the pads, albeit, still hiding them in black bags and dupattas.

Starting with only a few hundred women, she has managed to distribute over 12.5 lakh pads in 17 states, even at the farthest ends of the country, one drive at a time. Some of Amanpreet’s projects have been to distribute self-hygiene kits across Delhi slums and also to the patients of the world’s largest COVID care centre AY Radha Soami Satsang Beas in Chattarpur. As she says, “Taking care of personal and menstrual hygiene is a basic thing to fight with Covid .”

Inspired by her mother, who was the Superintendent at a women’s jail, she has also kickstarted a programme to distribute sanitary supplies for women detained in the jails of Punjab, in collaboration with NGO Sangini Saheli, It was clear that, for Amanpreet, no woman was to be left behind. Miss Kaur’s motivation, no doubt comes from the belief that “All women, no matter their social standing, have access to period products. This is only possible if menstrual hygiene products are at least subsidized or ideally made free for women.”

In a country where young boys and girls are deprived of basic sex and health education, many teachers and mothers are either unaware or misinformed about menstruation, which continues to be treated as an “impure activity” or “a curse”. Teachers tend to hide behind the culture of hush-hush and are unsure about what to do when young girls come to them, confused about getting their first period. Amanpreet advised the teachers to gift sanitary pads to the girl students on their coming-of-age birthdays. “Healthy conversations around the topic of menstruation are crucial from an early age. When women can have open and free conversations about menstruation, with the men in their lives, that will be true progress.” She regularly organizes sessions on menstrual health, hygiene, and a good diet for girls in schools. Distribution simply cannot be effective without education and awareness.

Research is an integral part of policymaking, creating awareness and understanding the dimensions of the world we live in. Amanpreet is also involved in a collaborative project by Delhi State Legal Services Authority(DSLA), Delhi Commission for Women and NGO Womenite, to gather data and survey the menstrual needs of women in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.  Her involvement in every aspect of the issue makes her undying dedication apparent to all.

Kaur, receiving recognition from the National Commission For Minorities for her work, Photo Courtesy: Amanpreet Kaur

Motivating Amanpreet, are the several enriching and supportive messages from people around the country, including the remotest of regions, for going beyond her call of duty. Not just that, she has inspired several young people to contribute to this cause, creating an active and impactful chain of hundreds of women who are also initiating conversations about this topic. The efforts of Officer Aman Preet Kaur and other pad women are the torchbearers of hope in the arena of women’s health and hygiene for ending period poverty in the South Asian superpower.

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