Aqsa’s pledge to normalize periods and spread awareness about menstrual health and hygiene !

Aqsa – Founder, ‘Free The Period

“Menstruation. A word that creeps out most of the people around the world. Menstruation is a necessary biological function that is experienced by women to get rid of dirt from their body. But there is this half of the population of the world which still can’t keep peace with this natural phenomenon. I am a woman and I deal with menstruation every month and I know how it’s like. You get mood swings, unbearable pain which a man can never experience, and above all, the pads are a luxury.

Most of the women in our country can’t even afford pads. Its a luxury for them. So, they use cloth in place of a pad which is extremely unhygienic and painful. But they don’t have a choice. Many women around the world die because of the infection they get by using a cloth. The situation is even worse in our country. It was because of this I started this campaign called “free the period”.

I started this initiative to spread awareness about menstrual health and hygiene which I believe is very much neglected in our country. When the lockdown started, several underprivileged women were not able to buy sanitary pads because of the money problems. And they actually feel it isn’t important to spend money on pads. Also, due to the COVID-19 crisis, there aren’t enough sanitary napkins available in the local stores which made the situation even more miserable.

With Free the Period, our primary focus is to distribute pads to as many underprivileged women as we can. We started doing this from our own city, Kolkata. So far we have distributed 4500 and more pads in more than 15 slums of Kolkata. We’ve even organized two awareness campaigns in local areas to spread awareness among the people about menstrual health and hygiene.

During this whole campaign, money was a big challenge. I knew nothing would happen if I do not step forward. So I withdrew my provident fund to buy pads and distributed them in local slums. When I shared about it online, people came forward to donate money and within 3 days, I raised 63000/-. We are still trying to raise more money so that we can help more and more women and continue to spread awareness about menstrual health and hygiene.

So far we are helping women by providing pads to them but with Free the Period, our main focus is to normalize menstruation in our country. I want people to talk about periods and women to talk about their menstrual problems openly. Then only, the taboo and social stigma about periods can be erased. Eventually, it’ll be easier to tackle menstrual health issues.

I knew this was going to be a challenge considering people’s mindset when someone talks about periods and pads openly. Most women were shy to accept pads and talk about periods. So I had to wrap the pads in the newspaper before giving it to them. I had to be very patient with them so that they can open up and talk about periods and I could tell them about menstrual hygiene issues. Some men even asked me to stop distributing pads as it was maligning society’s image but I didn’t. I couldn’t stop having come this far. I knew I couldn’t change their mindset in a day so I took all the challenges with a smile. In all this, my fiancé was my greatest support. He was the one who believed in me and made me believe that I can overcome any difficulty.

When I started this campaign, I asked for volunteers and nobody except my fiancé and two other male friends turned up. It was disheartening that none of my female friends came forward to help but this couldn’t stop me. I was determined to help. So the four of us started distributing pads on our own. It was difficult to do it with boys because women are shy and they wouldn’t accept pads from a boy. Sometimes, I would go alone and try to convince them so they would accept pads.

So far we are doing fine but only us distributing pads to the needful isn’t going to bring a change in the society. For a greater change, we need to make people aware about menstrual health and hygiene. We need to normalize periods so more people talk about it, understand the need of hygiene during periods and do not make periods a taboo.”

Instagram : @_free_the_period       @aqsa_mushtaque

*The views expressed in the above article are of the writer and not Winged Club.