Man musters courage, takes up tricky campaign

Man musters courage, takes up tricky campaign

Man musters courage, takes up tricky campaign
It wasn’t easy at all for Amit Sarikwal to take up an issue about which even women, though it concerned them only, did not talk much.

It needed “himmat” (courage). No wonder when Amit decided to launch a campaign to educate and create awareness about menstrual hygiene, he named it ‘HIMMAT’.

“After all we have to encourage womenfolk to not only discuss menstrual hygiene but also share their problems without any hesitation,” Amit, a Lucknow-based social worker, said.

The campaign, which was launched in May 2015  by adopting 20 girls, was a great success and within two years Amit and his team of volunteers have been distributing sanitary pads to around 100 girls every month.

“The campaign is a success mainly due to extensive use of the social media. We were surprised by the response especially when we took to social media as even today not many women feel comfortable talking about menstrual hygiene,” he said.

The campaign is focussing on women and girls in slums. “Most of the girls living in the slums only see the sanitary pads in advertisements,” he remarked.

Amit said that women empowerment could not be achieved unless they are healthy. “We cannot empower a woman if she is not healthy. That's why we chose to start with this basic thing,” he said.

Amit and his team members apprise the women about the problems that may arise if they do not maintain cleanliness during their menstrual period. “When they feel that they do have certain problems then we tell them about sanitary pads,’’ he said.

Initially,  Amit was hesitant about using the social media platforms for reaching out to prospective donors as well as informing the people about the campaign. “In India this issue is considered a taboo. It was really unthinkable to talk about it on the social media. Things were more complicated as I am a man,” he said.

Amit discussed his predicament with his wife and friends and all of them unanimously advised him to make use of the social media. “We were very nervous when we had first uploaded information about the campaign on the social media,’’ he added.

“Much to our surprise there was not a single negative comment. In fact many people expressed their desire to lend a helping hand to the campaign. A majority of the comments incidentally were from women,” he said.   

Some women even commented that it was the “best step” for the welfare of the womenfolk, Amit remarked.

However, two women objected to the uploading of information on the social media. “They felt that we were denigrating the women,” Amit said.

“What came as a pleasant surprise was our other associates on the social media replied to the duo that there was nothing wrong in what we are doing,’’ he said.

HIMMAT was confident of what it was doing and the images and information used on the social media had the consent of women and girls used in the campaign.

He said that the main objective of the campaign was to reach more and more slum women. “We select a slum first. Our team reaches the area and speaks to women and girls. We tell them about the benefits of sanitary pads and then distribute them,” he added.

Amit himself speaks to women and encourages them to associate with the project. His hands were strengthened as many active members on the social media  extended support to him in his venture.

He said that his social media associates also provide help for the campaign. “Sometimes they agree to help us with sanitary pads for distribution,” he remarked.

Amit’s efforts have earned him praise from international organisations also. “A Germany-based organisation mentioned about our campaign in its report,’’ he said.

He has been able to help women overcome “shyness” at least to some extent on the issue.

 “We have been able to drive home the message that talking about menstrual hygiene is not a 'gandi baat’ (dirty talk),” he added.

“The women and girls now accept the sanitary pads from us in front of their husbands, fathers and brothers. Now, they do not feel uncomfortable,’’ he said.

A visibly pleased Amit said that earlier he had to do a lot of persuasion to bring the women to the camps to listen to the speeches on the benefits of the sanitary pads.

“But now they get ready after a phone call. Every month when we reach a slum we find a large number of women and girls waiting for us. We now have to carry extra pads as we know that the numbers will exceed our estimate,” he said.

Amit encountered teething problems and they were sorted over a  period of time. Initially, five of the girls, who were given pads, avoided  the team during its next visit. It took a few months for women to turn up regularly during the team's monthly visits.

“Now, hardly anyone is missing during the monthly visits,” he added.

Amit is planning a seminar on this taboo topic. “We have a long way to go and we need help of everyone,” he added.
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